In defence of Cambridge sarcasm
Because a prickly exterior can hide a thousand insecurities
‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence’. No wonder then that the chaotic whirl of Cambridge life is frequently punctuated with sarcastic jibes, witty quips and offhand dry remarks.
It’s a nuanced, idiosyncratic form of humour we all fall into. And who could blame us? When faced with the constant pressure, stress, acute feelings of inadequacy and fears of social ostracism (real or imagined), how can we cope unless we ridicule, satirise, self-deprecate and deride?
Having been recently characterised by a friend as sarcastic and cutting, I have decided to delve underneath that hardened, indifferent exterior and diagnose the root cause, then extrapolate for the rest of the university so I don’t feel like a solitary freak of nature, and finally explain why that sarcastic safety blanket, especially for the emotionally dysfunctional like me, is much needed. (Best not to try and read that last sentence out loud in one breath).
Let’s be honest, our lives are dominated by work. How many socials have you bailed upon so that you can do your supervision work, write an essay or just get some desperately needed sleep after staying up working all night? Your friends might be at uni in Leeds or Manchester, which from looking at Facebook just seems like 10 weeks of drinking hard and partying.
Or they might be off on a ‘gap yah’ swanning around South East Asia to ‘discover themselves’. Maybe the mockingly superior attitude we adopt towards other unis stems from a need to reassure ourselves that Cambridge is worth it.
It’s a fairly standard practice to taunt other people about their subjects, for arts students the go to jibe is usually some form of an enquiry about their future career prospects. Mathmos might have the smug satisfaction from doing a subject universally respected as difficult, but everyone knows their social skills are more of an imaginary concept than the numbers they study. Yet sarcasm directed at other subjects usually belies the internal turmoil we have with our own. We may have convinced our DoS of our undying love for our subject before we got in, but now behind that crumbling facade of contemptuous
Yet sarcasm directed at other subjects usually belies the internal turmoil we have with our own. We may have convinced our DoS of our undying love for our subject before we got in, but now behind that crumbling facade of contemptuous indifference we’re all crippled with a love/hate dichotomy for our degrees.
Whenever a rower, cyclist, swimmer etc brings up their gruelling sporting commitments I know I’m guilty of rolling my eyes and gasping in mock disbelief like ‘wow I didn’t realise you have to wake up at 6am, how do you even cope?!’In reality the sarcasm hides a secret jealousy for their dedication, motivation and physical prowess, when in comparison I have to count a trek to Sidgwick or the two flights of stairs to my gyp room as my only form of exercise.
Though most of our casual derision may be passed off as friendly banter, admittedly there is some truth behind the mocking. Sure there probably are some CompScis who interact more with machines than they do with real living and breathing humans and sports fanatics dying to brag about how much exercise they do.
Sarcasm is the natural self-defence for Cantabs painfully self-aware of their own numerous shortcomings. Faced with any dire reality of failing your degree, failing to get a job, failing to have any friends etc… the easiest way to cope is to say a snarky comment a brush it off. Because for those of us with a low EQ (emotional intelligence, that is) it’s easier to show contempt than betray that things cut deep and we actually care.
So sarcasm might be overused but it’s an essential veneer of self-respect. Because we sardonic Cantabs are just like an egg, break that tough shell and you’ll find yourself left with a runny mess.