Sunday, 11 November 2007


Sarcasm. From the Latin, which in turn is from the Greek: Lewis and Short:"Sarcasmos, m., a keen or bitter jest, a taunt, jibe, sarcasm, a figure of speech. Charis p.247 P (in Quint. 8, 6, 57) and Diom p.458, written as Greek." Derived from (to quote Liddell & Scott) "sarkisdo", 'to strip off the flesh, scrape it out'.

You can see why. But the etymological connection to flesh ('sarcophagus', a stone coffin which swallows flesh; or 'sarcoma' a fleshly tumour) is pretty interesting, and would be 'profound' if I adhered to that Nietzschean or Heideggerian faux-argument-by-etymology thing. We tend to think of sarcasm as an aggressive discursive tic, more or less deplorable for that reason. But (as per Civilisation and its Discontents) it's actually something the reverse, the manifestation of fleshly scar-tissue (hence: scarcasm), an idiom symptomatic of an organism under attack rather than initiating it. A verbal histamine response.

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