How to Be Sarcastic: The Echoic Reminder Theory of Verbal Irony


Positive statements, such as "A fine friend you are," can readily be used sarcastically. Negative statements, such as "You're a terrible friend," can be used sarcastically only under special circumstances. We account for this asymmetry in terms of echoic reminder theory, which asserts that listeners recognize sarcasm when they perceive that a speaker is alluding to some antecedent state of affairs. Positive statements do not require explicit antecedents because such statements may implicitly allude to societal norms and expectations, and these norms are almost invariably positive. Negative statements, however, cannot implicitly allude to such positive norms, and so they should require explicit antecedents if they are to be understood. An explicit victim of a sarcastically intended remark can provide such an antecedent and so should enable negative statements to be used sarcastically. Three experiments, involving scenarios with and without victims, provide support for this theory of sarcastic irony.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General