Comparisons of Ironic and Sarcastic Arguments in Terms of Appropriateness and Effectiveness in Personal Relationships

Article excerpt

Individuals vary greatly in how they approach an argument. Some fear it as though it will kill them, and others seek it out for it may be the only joy they can find in life (Hample, 2005). Some individuals do struggle with the ability to separate arguments against a position from arguments against their character (Rancer, Baukus, & Infante, 1985). Aside from antagonistic approaches to verbal communication, irony has enjoyed a significant amount of attention in the communication discipline. Studies have varied from employing irony as a theoretical lens to examine the discursive space of organizations (Trethewey, 1999) to more specific studies of irony in argumentation (Tindale & Gough, 1987). Despite irony being prevalent in our everyday speech, there is little evidence concerning the efficacy of ironic arguments in everyday speech. Pexman and Olineck (2002) examined irony and insults, specifically. Not only did they find insults that used irony were common, they also found insults are a common way for irony to appear in everyday conversations.

Although there are some people who take ironic statements literally, there are still instances where irony has been of some utility (Tindale & Gough, 1987). Disguising harmful speech in some acceptable form is not a new idea. In fact, devices like humor have been used to bring people together and drive people apart (Miczo, 2004).

The field of argumentation needs to turn its attention to the use of such tropes as irony and humor to examine their potential utility and/or destructive potential. By examining these devices in the context of argumentation, we can begin to understand the process of ironic arguing more fully and develop a broader understanding of argument acceptability by including arguments that use figurative language.

Even though many researchers have studied irony, few have clearly articulated a definition of the concept despite utilizing irony as a central variable. Indeed, Fahnestock (2011) argues the definition of irony is often too loose. Rather, she contends the conceptualization should include some level of understanding of why one meaning would be understood while another meaning would not. Such loose definitions are common problems present in most of the studies of irony (Averbeck & Hample, 2008). Due to a lack of clarity in the understanding of irony, there exists much confusion over how and whether its use differs from sarcasm. Despite irony being prevalent in our everyday speech (Gibbs, 2000; Pexman & Olineck, 2002), there are currently no definitive answers to such questions (Averbeck & Hample, 2008). Due to disagreement over conceptualizations of irony and sarcasm, I offer working definitions to examine whether irony and sarcasm can be distinguished based on people's perceptions of argument effectiveness and/or appropriateness in the interpersonal context.

Others have taken up this task (Roberts & Kreuz, 1994; Kreuz & Glucksberg, 1989), but the findings of such research do not address the effectiveness of these arguments during interpersonal interaction. In general, previous research attempting to distinguish irony from sarcasm has stopped at the point of conceptualization and relied upon research participants to generate examples or define the differences between irony and sarcasm. However useful this descriptive information may be, it does not inform argumentation scholars and users of figurative language which message strategy is more effective and/or appropriate for use in interpersonal situations. The present study seeks to explore such differences in the interpersonal context.

The approach taken here is receiver focused. One of the ways in which an individual can distinguish between ironic and sarcastic arguments is on the basis of appropriateness and/or effectiveness. These two variables are of particular importance because they are indicative of interpersonal argumentative competence (Yingling & Trapp, 1985). …