Jul 292010

A wink & a nod by kthypryn.

An overt nod and a wink seems to be used a good deal to signal sarcasm in the US. I ran searches on my personal emails and I can tell you that only my ‘merican correspondents ever say ‘just kidding’.

And (interestingly for this Brit) this extends to ‘mericans who are really close to me – folks who I feel sure must know that I know when they’re making fun. They don’t flinch when I mock or tease them and they give as good as they get. But when we’re trading friendly, intimate insults, they add a ’just kidding’. So what different politeness rules are operating here?


Big, big thanks to the perceptive commenters who highlighted this when I was trying to tease out the differences between the US and UK meanings of sarcasm in part one of this series.

 Posted by at 9:31 am

  14 Responses to “Sarcasm in the UK and US – Part two: A nod and a wink”

  1. I always assumed that sarcasm was the same as “sarcasme”, which does not seem to be the same after I’ve read the “part one” where you gave a definition of it, Vicki. But maybe it would be useful to know that “sarcasme” is not as light hearted and lovely as humour. Humour is including, sarcasm (and irony, to a lesser extent) is excluding. The example you gave “nice weather, isn’t it?” I would not call “sarcasme” in French.
    Voilà !

  2. Nods and winks… Yes, you are bringing back memories of an American friend I had when I was studying in London.

    When she was trying to be witty (make a funny, but sarcastic remark) she would move closer towards whover she was talking to, smile and often put her hand on their shoulder or arm, make her remark and then usually laugh at it.

    You could tell from her body language that she was being witty.

    Unlike a Brit.

    British people don’t have such clear signals to indicate whether they are being witty or not… and it can be very difficult (and frustrating at times) for folk from other cultures to understand our sense of humour because it is often very dry, dark and ‘sarcastic’.

    Let’s not forget, ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest.’

    British people often make (silly?) jokes about very serious or awful things.

  3. Oh bon jour Alice! Thank you so much giving us a french take on this. I think issue you raise about whether a comment is inclusive or exclusive is very interesting. I think who we use sarcasm with, and in what contexts is probably one of the key differences between UK and US sarcasm.

    John, you make a good point about this too. I agree – there are contexts in which Brits will crack jokes that many nationalities wouldn’t. The Bill Bryson quip is a case in point. More Americans would feel more serious behaviour was appropriate there. And yes, it can be very difficult and frustrating for people from other cultures to understand.

  4. Oh, well, I just put up a post commenting on that. (PROBABLY should’ve read the later posts beforehand…eh, oh well)
    Anyway I’m guilty of do almost EXACTLY what Sydes describes when I’m being humorous to anyone and I think it’s definitely the widely accepted American view on how to approach humor.
    I think the intimacy of touching someone and leaning in coupled with laughing at yourself are just ways to try and say whether or not the comment should be taken lightly or to show that your trying to befriend the person seeing as sarcasm depicts a certain level of comfort with a person in the US.

  5. Point well made about the more overt delivery being to do with friendliness, Sidney. I think differing styles of politeness are probably key here.

  6. See to me, someone I don’t know very well getting into my space and putting ininvited hands on my person is far more objectionable than saying “Do you need a hnad with that?” while I struggle to carry out a basic task.

    I went to a really bad show during the recent Brighton Festival Fringe and I was talking to an American woman afterwards. She was laughing but making sincere comments about her disappointment with the show. I made dry, sardonic remarks about the performance, as is my wont anf though I didn’t make the connection at the time, this is the point at which she started pawing me. I wasn’t terribly inpressed, but being of the English persuasion was too polite to disentangle myself.

    [For your own entertainment- here is my review of the show, which chall remain anonymous:

    Abysmal. I’d like 90 minutes of my life back please.]

  7. Apologies for all the typos in the above post. I also ommited the fact that my new friend joined in with the sarcasm at that point.

  8. Oh Sidney and Solo – very interesting

    I think a problem with the overt signals (nods winks, nudges, leaning-ins etc) from a British perspective might be that we could interpet them as a bit insulting. We might think “Do you think I’m such an idiot that I don’t know you’re joking?”

  9. Precisely. If you point out that it’s a joke, it isn’t funny. Unless you’re pretending you think the others don’t get it in a mock-patronising way. Which is one of my favourite forms of comedy sarcasm.

  10. I think this is part of positive politeness: Americans say “just kidding” because we don’t want you to be hurt if you missed the irony. Personally I am a callous fellow who will keep a straight face in that situation.

  11. Yes, I agree John, and speaking on a personal level, it’s an aspect of life that I really enjoy here – the inclusiveness.

  12. […] the rest of this series: part one, part two, part three  Posted by Vicki at 5:25 […]

  13. […] here to read part one of this series and here for part two.  Posted by Vicki at 6:36 […]

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