Sunday, October 14, 2007

Facetious v. Sarcastic

Facetious popped up a few days ago, while I was too busy to deal with it, but I think I'll go on a kick to discuss words that we hear all too commonly and wonder whether they are being used correctly. So...

Facetious comes from the Latin "facetus" for "witty" through the French "facetie" for "jest". It is a rare word, indeed, that maintains it etymological roots. Probably because the word didn't originate in English until after the Middle Ages, c. 1590. And today, it still means "not to be taken seriously or literally" or "amusing or frivolous" as from lacking serious content. Contemporaneous to the evolution of frivolous, sarcasm came into being, from the Greek "sarx" or "sarkos" for "a piece of meat" and pre-Indo-European base "twerk" or "thwares" for "to cut", and by a further Greek derivative through "sarkasmos" for "to sneer" and then the late Latin "sarcasmos". Approximately 100 years later, sarcastic came into being. Why it took 100 years to get the adjective from the noun, we may never know. Now, this may seem odd, to get from rending flesh to sneering, but the idea of the sneer is the biting comment, harsh or bitter derision, akin to rending flesh not with an instrument, but with words. So, the difference appears to be that facetious is a comment that is cute and not hurtful, while sarcasm is irony intended to taunt. Of course, many mask sarcasm in the guise of facetiousness, so as not to offend (as much).

When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a facetious comment that he was acting like a dog. When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a sarcastic comment that he was acting like an angel. Too easy, and going to get boring quickly. Facetious and sarcastic both refer to speech. Since these words refer to the witty or biting remarks of people, it doesn't work with acts of people. Plaintiff's counsel's facetious conduct to twirl his pencil while in Court just doesn't make sense. Plaintiff's counsel's facetious remark about the witness' disheveled appearance as indicative of whether the witness cared about his testimony was not appreciated by the jury. I make sarcastic remarks about Plaintiff's counsel's lack of competence repeatedly in these posts. Again, much too easy. The only thing I will add is that the type of speech to which facetious and sarcasm apply is usually not formal. It's not a facetious statement or a sarcastic order. Both are off the cuff, not formulated or memorialized. Sarcastic has a sotto voce or behind one's back connotation to its usage since you should not be inclined to make hurtful statements deliberately to someone. Telling your adversary that she is your best friend is sarcasm. Telling your friend that the big pink bow she is wearing in her hair makes her look 10 years younger is facetious, and borderline sarcasm.

Both great words. Use them well. Use the comments which are the basis of the words sparingly.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good job. Not many people know the difference between the two.

Janet said...

Thank you for your blog entry.
Oner of my New Year's resolutions was to be more careful not to be sarcastic (whic does come very easy to me). I think that fecetiousness comes easily to those of us who also find sarcasm an easy weapon and I have been working on finding that balance of being quick-witted without being sharp-tongued.
Your post has helped in my education. Thank you again :)

Janet said...

Wow - look at all those typos :eyeroll:
I'm sorry about that :D

Lauren said...

Thanks, Janet! I'm glad it helped you. It certainly helped me. And I'll ignore your typos if you ignore mine. ;-)

Mihai said...

I disagree with the correlation between the two. What you assign to facetious---sarcasm minus the intent to hurt---readily applies to ironic.

Sarcasm and irony share one common particularity: you say the opposite of what you intend. And they are separated by the intent to hurt. As such, the border between the two is not always clear, because the receiver of irony can overload it with lack of intent to perceive sarcasm, whereas sarcasm can pass as irony when intent to hurt is not perceived by the receiver.

Facetiousness, on the other hand, is, as you say at one point, the fact of not taking serious something that is very serious. It can come with or disguised as irony or sarcasm, but it's in no way a cousin of the two.

Anonymous said...

irony more often refers to something that has already taken place. i.e. how ironic that the gun rights activist was shot.

Christian said...

"irony more often refers to something that has already taken place. i.e. how ironic that the gun rights activist was shot."

That's horrifyingly incorrect.

Sly said...

"It's not a facetious statement or a sarcastic order. both are off the cuff..." ~Original post
Ouch. Capitalize "both" or use a semicolon; I wouldn't point it out if we weren't already caught up in this pedantry. ;)

But just between the two of us, I thought it was a brilliant article, and I'm neither being sarcastic, nor facetious.

Anonymous said...

I liked the article, and I believe that irony is separate from sarcastic. Irony is something that is observed more than it is something that is intended. For the most part, people don't try to make ironic comments, or do actions that will be perceived as ironic.

I believe that facetious is overused, and is often used as a pretentious substitute for the word "sarcastic". What its true meaning is, I am still not sure. Good article, but I still don't really comprehend when the term facetious should be used.

Me said...

Excellent comparison of these words, which are too commonly confused. Thank you!

Jack said...

Lauren, a good try at explaining the difference between the two terms, but the examples weaken the attempt.
Facetious does mean "not to be taken seriously or literally," a good definition that says a lot in few words. "Not to be taken" addresses intent, specifically lack of ill intent. "...seriously or literally" brings in the word play involved, where one says something that is the opposite of what is meant. Intent is everything in whether something is facetious or sarcastic.
I was introduced to "facetious" by Steve Allen, who used the term on his talk show frequently. Facetiousness is teasing, at its worst, but mostly jovial. Sarcasm is mean-spirited.
Both terms refer to speech, as was noted. Ironic should be used more for events or situations, although I would never say "ironic" couldn't be used to describe something said. I think it often sounds awkward to do so, however.

Lauren said...

Thanks, Sly, for finding the typo. It is now fixed. I think I probably intended the semicolon, but now I'll just take the fragment. ;-) And just between us pedants, I appreciate another set of eyes making sure my posts are accurate!

The English teacher said...

The comment regarding irony is in reference to verbal irony for all of you who are unfamiliar with the term. Verbal irony, unlike dramatic and situational, has little to do with events. The general meaning for the literary device is when someone says something but means the exact opposite, which is not unlike sarcasm.

mike hipp said...

Great rundown on this often misunderstood set of words. I seem to have this conversation with people at least once a month; most people use sarcastic in the wrong way, thinking that they are being facetious. I need to print this out and keep it with me at all times.

Mihai Danila said...

I noticed that some people have corroborated my claim that verbal irony exists, thus putting irony right next to sarcasm. It could be beneficial to hear Lauren's opinion on the matter, as her opinion is bound to be well informed.

Facetiousness, I thought, indicates treating a matter with an undue lack of seriousness. Nowhere in this definition do I notice the prerequisites for irony or sarcasm.

Irony is intended to mean the contrary of what is being said, of course making this somewhat obvious.

Sarcasm is irony intended to be, or perceived as being mean.

Am I mistaken?

Anonymous said...

Exactly what I thought facetious has to do with a flippant remark usually in bad or poor taste where the seriousness is not considered.

Nancy Dale said...

I agree that sarcasm and facetious are different in the intent, one being humorous and the other to hurt; however, there is one common denominator and that is they are both lies.

Irony, on the other hand, is an observation.

Unknown said...

Plain and simply understandable is Nancy Dale's comment.

Mihai Danila said...

The relationship between sarcasm and irony has also made it into the article - yay! All good, as we're here to learn!

Anonymous said...

I like your reply, but it woulx make more sense if the gun rights activist was shot with her own weapon. Now that would be ironc.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure we all know the meaning of sarcasm (it's fairly common... habitual) though I disagree that it's solely malicious or harmful. Sarcasm can be used as a simple comic device or to be charming/eganging.

That said, the explanation of "facetious" was very misleading. A facetious statement is intended for humor but is in "poor taste".
A facetious statement would be something like this: (after the tsunami/Fukushima incident in Japan) "As if they haven't had enough mass destruction."
*this is a facetious statement because it comes off as genuine but is in fact a jibe at Japan's history and misfortune with regards to WW2... obviously joking about the 2 atomic bombs that killed countless lives is crude and harsh... but it adds to the comedic depth. "dark comedey" if you will.
**don't be fooled, being facetious means to be comedic/humorous... but it is by definition more caustic than sarcasm.

Lauren said...

Hello Annonymous post from August 21, 2012 (it's so hard to tell all you annonymous posters apart...)

While I agree that people may use facetious to refer to comedic and/or humorous statements of a dark kind or that others may mistakenly believe that sarcasm can be either a simple comic device or charming and/or engaging, the point of this blog is to discuss from an etymological standpoint how the words should be used in order to maintain a unique meaning relative to other words. Obviously, the degree to which speakers and listeners perceive comedy and/or humor may vary, and therefore, in practice, these same people may have different interpretations of how facetious or sarcastic these statements are, if at all.

Calvin said...

I believe facetious is more "obvious lying with humor". Being facetious is being illustrative, colorful, and sarcastic. While sarcasm is not always facetious and usually dry.

Facetious: (She is a good friend, and you do love her, just not to that extent)
"Oh, I love her so much, we're lesbians and we give each other foot rubs, at the same time."

Sarcastic: (She is not a friend, you hate her)
"Oh, she is just my BEEEST friend."

Anonymous said...

Okay...

I came across this post which was meant 'tongue in cheek' which I always think of as facetiousness. But a friend says it's sarcasm. How would you classify it -sarcastic or facetious?
Yes, the topic is serious and no disrespect is meant. I just want an opinion on whether you feel the word play is facetious or sarcastic. All the 'tips' are of the same style.
Top 10 tips to stop Rape
1. "If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her"
2. " Don't put drugs in women's drinks"

If the topic offends anyone please feel free to delete it, but please tell us, facetious or sarcastic, first.
Thanks.

Mihai Danila said...

To me, it's obvious it's not sarcasm. Since sarcasm requires saying the opposite of what you mean (in addition to the intent to hurt someone's feelings), neither example qualifies for sarcasm.

As far as whether this is facetiousness, I'll let the others comment.

Anonymous said...

I will continue to misuse both of them, but the knowledge is welcome.

Sandy McDonald said...

You should have thrown sardonic into the mix as well.

J. Dexter said...

Opps! sticky "w"...I am now prone to think...

J. Dexter said...

When I read the article, I half way understood the difference; but, after reading the comments...now I am corn-fused again. I worked in middle management for state government for 35 or my 37 years of service. All my subordinates knew when I was being facetious; however, when the same facetiousness was applied to my superiors, in their eyes, I was being sarcastic. I have now concluded that the difference is the listener, not the talker.

Anonymous said...

True, true... I have been one that learned that different people have different strokes. What some find funny others find insensitive. What some find rude others find down right offensive. It's best to get an understanding of a person before you let yourself hang. Keep this in mind when in company of the others ; )

Anonymous said...

If a tree makes an sarcastic comment in the woods, and no one hears, it's still ironic.

Mug said...

About irony, I would just like to get one thing straight; has it always been misused? In almost all situations in which I've seen or heard it, the person means what they say, rather seriously at first, but then it sounds like a joke and realizing that, the person states that it is pretty ironic. e.g. "I'm about to be stepped on by a giant cockroach! How ironic." -Ron Stoppable as he is about to be stepped on by a giant cockroach.

Anonymous said...

Is that not situational irony because people step on cockroaches, and the exact opposite is happening?

Terry Prothero said...

Facetious is covered pretty well in this dictionary entry.



http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/facetious




A person can be facetious and so can their statements. It means joking or jovial. In most, but not all cases, a facetious statement is inappropriate. It's not vicious, but it's often in bad taste.



Example: The priest did not appreciate my facetious remarks during the church service concerning the price of harlots.



Sarcasm, on the other hand, is when we state the opposite of what we really mean to make a point. Sarcasm usually has a bite to it, but it isn't always mean spirited.



Example: Nice throw Bob. We didn't need that window anyway. Now we get a good cross draft.



In this example, I'm using sarcasm to express my unhappiness with the damage to the window.



Irony doesn't refer to a statement but a situation or event. Irony is when what happens is the opposite of what we would normally expect.



Example: An off duty police officer is caught shoplifting by a man he previously arrested.


Example:









Terry Prothero said...

Sorry this is cleaner looking:


Facetious is covered pretty well in this dictionary entry.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/facetious

A person can be facetious and so can their statements. It means joking or jovial. In most, but not all cases, a facetious statement is inappropriate. It's not vicious, but it's often in bad taste.

Example: The priest did not appreciate my facetious remarks during the church service concerning the price of harlots.

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is when we state the opposite of what we really mean to make a point. Sarcasm usually has a bite to it, but it isn't always mean spirited.

Example: Nice throw Bob. We didn't need that window anyway. Now we get a good cross draft.

In this example, I'm using sarcasm to express my unhappiness with the damage to the window.

Irony doesn't refer to a statement but a situation or event. Irony is when what happens is the opposite of what we would normally expect.

Example: An off duty police officer is caught shoplifting by a man he previously arrested.

Anonymous said...

That is so true that many people try to disguise a sarcastic remark as a facetious remark - usually ending it with, "oh, I was just kidding!" They weren't kidding. Thanks for the excellent definitions and for explaining the difference to the many people who don't know.

Phobophilic said...

I'm late to the party, here, but I wonder if you could comment on how "hyperbole" fits in with these other two?

Bryan said...

Interesting article. I've always utilized facetious in terms of frivolity in face of solemnity, regardless of intent. This can be construed in different ways. In a more positive light, it can be seen as a means to alleviate a despondent situation with humor. In contrast, it can be perceived as a personal protest; the veiled conveyance of your disdainful attitude towards a person or a situation. Detached from intent, it could mean your disconnect from gravitas in general; a lack of understanding. Sarcasm is much more simple in that it is a remark that delineates a conspicuously false reality in an attempt to expose the contrary. It is an indirect reproach, much less caustic and confrontational than a direct rebuke. I also wanted to add the lack of exclusivity of intent to sarcasm as well. It is not always contemptuous, but can be seen as friendly jostling.

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Anonymous said...

I think the explanation of the differences between those two words are accurate to the common population.

The crux of it all is the intent of the sender. I have a Master of Science degree in Communication in Human Relations.

People often refer to a witty sense humor as sarcastic. But more likely, in our culture, it was intended as facetious.

Words for thought...

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