Young children don’t get sarcasm – but by the time they’re teens, it can be their default mode. Here’s what science tells us about the mental acrobatics behind that wry one-liner.

If I were to tell you that sarcasm is one of our most powerful linguistic tools, your first response might reasonably be, yeah right! Perhaps you’d even simply assume that I was indulging in a little irony myself.

We are often reminded, after all, of Oscar Wilde’s jibe that “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit” while forgetting that the famous twister of words immediately qualified his statement by adding “but the highest form of intelligence”. Parents or teachers of teenagers, in particular, may find it hard to believe that this linguistic quirk is a sign of a flexible and inventive mind.



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