Posted by Lotg on February 10, 2004
In Reply to: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit posted by lachlanoddy on February 10, 2004
: : : Does anyone know who first said this, and the context in which it was said?
: : : I thought it was the "pun is the lowest form of humour!"
: I always knew the phrase as "sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the funniest" No idea where it came from.
I must admit, I'm not familiar with the 'pun' version. I didn't think 'pun' was as strong a word as 'sarcasm'. I always thought a 'pun' was a play on words, while sarcasm was (as defined in One-Look's quick definition) an expression of ridicule aimed to wound, therefore I think seems to be nastier. Oddly, Merrian-Webster lists 'wit' as a synonym of sarcasm. Although M-W's definition of wit is a bit ordinary. I would have thought that sarcasm is just one type of witticism (sp?). Although I agree with Thomas Carlyle's thoughts on it to some degree, and Henry I do like the quote "the lowest and most grovelling kind of wit." That's very descriptive.
Finally Webster, Merrian-Webster's definition includes the origin that your college professor mentioned Webster... ie. "French or Late Latin; French sarcasme, from Late Latin sarcasmos, from Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh, bite the lips in rage, sneer, from sark-, sarx flesh; probably akin to Avestan thwar&s- to cut..."
So it sure as hell is an ugly word when you look at it's foundations. It's an old one too. But so far, the only date associated with the actual saying 'sarcasm is the lowest form of wit' seems to come from Thomas Carlyle's version. And there's some doubt as to actual original words of the saying in it's entire form anyway.