So what is a girl to do who doesn’t understand people or social situations yet wishes to live in the world? She observes. I listened to how people interacted at home and at school. How they interacted on TV and in books. And found there were NO easy answers.
So like any good engineer in the making, I did research. I read books (pre-Internet days folks) on body language, on psychology, and Mad magazine. I loved that magazine and its irreverent look at life (and my mother couldn’t stand it). There was a section in Mad magazine and some of the small Mad paperbacks which would sometimes have an article ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.’ This is where I was introduced to sarcasm and the snappy comeback.
Sarcasm – the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.
So the great experiment began. Attempts were conducted against my younger sister. Those didn’t go so well and were reported to the authorities (aka my parents) immediately. Thankfully I had another option, my next door neighbor, Harry. Harry was an oddity in our middle class neighborhood. He was a lawyer who didn’t practice the law. He picked up odd jobs to provide for his family and once all of the kids had moved out, he started a work from home business. He worked in his garden a lot and knew all of the kids in the neighborhood. This was NOT Mr Rogers, a kind quiet man. This was a loud profane man who pulled no punches. But he did spend the time to help me to learn how to interact with the world using words.
There is a timing to snappy comebacks. You must let the victim complete their words but not wait too long to reply so others don’t connect their words to yours. Profanity shouldn’t be used unless absolutely necessary, it makes you sound amateurish. And practice, practice, practice.
There are GREAT people to observe such as Groucho Marx (I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception) or Winston Churchill (He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.). Supposedly Churchill practiced his quips at home so he was ready with them when the opportunity presented itself at work or at society functions. And of course the interchanges between Mr Spock and Dr McCoy on Star Trek are good too. (Had to sneak Star Trek in here somewhere)
You can be too sarcastic and people will avoid you just to not be flayed by words. As a teen, I read the book ‘A Separate Peace’ where one of the characters states that ‘It was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak.’ At the time, I disagreed, I didn’t like the idea of weakness in myself. Now as an adult, I can see SOME truth to it.
There is a sense of control when using sarcasm, you are attempting to control a conversation and establish authority within it. And when you don’t instinctively understand social situations, having that control (or the illusion of it) reduces your anxiety. I know I felt more in control and stronger with those tools at my disposal.
I think many times people use sarcasm to build a defensive wall around themselves. Or others use it to return perceived tabs or insults with the only weapons they have, their wit and their voice. However, in some situations, it is enjoyable sport to watch two masters in sarcasm go back and forth, like tennis players, bantering.