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Facetious Vs. Sarcastic - Enumerating the Differences

Facetious Vs. Sarcastic
The English language contains a complex web of words borrowed from across the globe, and often their meanings overlap each other, making it difficult to judge when to use one over the other. Penlighten gives you the difference between two commonly interchanged words, facetious and sarcastic.
Rashmi Sunder
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Similar Thing, Different Motive
The words "Facetious" and "Sarcastic" are adjectives, both of which are generally attached to describe speech and not situations, but at the same time, they are completely opposite in their desired intent.
"Look what the cat dragged in!", he said. So was he being facetious or sarcastic? Confused? You're not the only one. Many words in the English language are interchangeable, while others have meanings that are very similar but where the connotation and the context varies. This makes it hard for most to catch the subtle differences, and thus, we end up substituting the wrong words with their cousin terms.

Facetious statements are used to treat a serious situation with humor, although inappropriate at times, whereas sarcastic statements are meant to veil the mockery or contempt that the person wants to convey with words that are more polite or indirect (don't assume though, that people can't be upfront with their sarcasm! It's a hard world out there). We will further compare these two words, giving their meanings, origins, and examples of both their direct usages as well as statements that reflect their intent.
/fəˈsiːʃəs/ (fuss-e-shus) /sɑːˈkastɪk/ (sir-cast-ick)
Facetiousness Sarcasm
Facetiously Sarcastically
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (American)
Used to describe speech that is funny but that is usually regarded as annoying or silly.
  1. Joking or jesting, often inappropriately.
  2. Meant to be humorous or funny: not serious.
Oxford Dictionary (British)
Treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor, flippant.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (American)
Using or showing sarcasm, which is the use of words that mean the opposite of what you want to say, especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation or to be funny.
  1. Show of sarcasm which is sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance desired to give pain.
  2. Show of sarcasm- which is a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.
Oxford Dictionary (British)
Marked or given to using irony in order to mock or convey contempt.
It came into the English language in the 16th century (around 1590) from the French word "facétioux"(16 c.), which comes from "facétie"(15 c.), meaning "a joke", which was from the Latin word "facetiae", meaning "jests or witticisms", from "facetus" meaning "witty, fine, courteous or elegant." It originated in the English language in the 16th century (around 1570s), the modern form being used from the 1610s. It comes from the Late Latin word "sarcasmus", which comes from the Late Greek word "sarcasmos" meaning "a sneer, jest, taunt or mockery", from Greek word "sarkazein" figuratively meaning "to speak bitterly, sneer" and literally "to rip off the flesh", from the word "sark/sarx" meaning "flesh or piece of meat".
Usage of the Word
  1. The clown's facetious jokes were misunderstood by the spectators.
  2. The mutual awkwardness felt by the new students faded when Tyler came around and made them laugh with his facetious remarks.
Sentences Expressing Facetiousness
  1. Ella: What do you think of the new Government?
    Ryan: I think that we should get the 5 graders to replace them instead!
    Ella: You always seem to be joking about such things!

    In the above example, Ryan made a funny comment in response to a serious issue, without any malicious intent. This type of remark reflects facetiousness.
  2. Dylan: Soldiers have a hard life and deserve every bit of respect.
    Max: Forget that, tell me if I get to keep the guns if I become one!
    Dylan: Stop goofing around, man! This isn't funny.

    In this example, Max took something serious and made light of it, but it was inappropriate, but at the same time, it wasn't aimed at insulting or mocking anything or anyone. This too, is a facetious remark.
Usage of the Word
  1. Tamara's sarcastic nature has made her undesirable amongst many of her peers.
  2. Christina looked around the classroom during AP Math and sarcastically whispered that she was having a blast.
Sentences Expressing Sarcasm
  1. Reggie: Would you like to hear me play my new composition?
    Levi: Of course, you're my most favorite musician in the whole world!
    Reggie: Are you busting my chops?

    In this given example, Levi is not really interested in Reggie's music, and he obviously is not a fan either, but his words reflect emotions completely opposite to what he is feeling and has a mocking undertone. This is sarcasm or a sarcastic comment.
  2. Melanie: Tonya, I think it is about to rain and you don't have an umbrella, do you?

    Tonya: Oh isn't this just fantastic! It's probably the highlight of my day.

    In the second example, Tony is irritated with the situation she is in, but masks it with a contradictory response, which reflects some bitterness. This kind of a remark is also considered to be sarcastic.
So when we look at the information above, we notice that the basic difference between facetious and sarcastic lies in the intent, the tone in which it is said, and the context. If you had to find a correlation between the two, we may say that sarcasm is a more severe and bitter form of facetiousness with a negative intent, and conversely facetiousness involves some amount of sarcasm at times (again, depends on the context).

The idea of a facetious remark is to avoid literal meanings to be derived from it by using opposite terms with hints satire, whereas sarcasm is intended to be taken literally as a mockery or putting down of an individual, thing, or situation with sharp tinges of negativity. The body language and tone of speech are important hints that let you know what the other person's intention is.
So, the next time somebody makes an offhanded comment, be sure you read the signs before passing them off as either facetious or sarcastic. And then again, you'll also know when you are being humorous or downright mean!
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