John Terry and the Case for Sarcasm

Ex-England captain John Terry was cleared last week of the charges against him. Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle said it was possible that Terry’s words were not intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.

It seems that the case boils down not to what was said but how John Terry  said it. Here are two possibilities – he said it “confrontationally” or he said it “sarcastically”. The first implies guilt according to the magistrate; the latter was the basis for his acquittal.

Had I been called as an expert witness, this is what I would have said: “Sarcasm is a form of angry behaviour. We use sarcasm when we are ourselves feeling angry yet we are not willing to express our anger overtly. Thus we use words which are designed to get a reaction but say them in a way which enables us to appear blameless and to avoid responsibility for our behaviour. Its purpose is to create anger in the other person covertly, to get them to express the anger that the sarcastic person is feeling but not expressing openly. Sarcasm is what we refer to in my profession as ‘anger through the back door’ “.

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