In sports, we have organizations which set rules for their member groups, such as the National Basketball Association, or “NBA”, as it is known. The games played by the members of the league are sanctioned by the league; i.e., they are sponsored and approved by the league. But if a team, its owner, its coach, or its players violate NBA league policies, they can be sanctioned - punished - by the league. We saw this recently when the league banned for life Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Mr. Sterling, who apparently thinks he is still living in the 1950s, made some very racist comments about African Americans. The league ruled that Mr. Sterling had to pay a fine of $2.5 million, sell the team, and was banned from all NBA games for life. The league imposed the most serious sanction in its history.
Sanction pops up in legal cases frequently. When the United States Supreme Court rules that a particular police method is approved, we will read or hear such comments as “the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned the use by police of devices which gather data on vehicle licenses.” But if the Supreme Court rules that some form of evidence gathering is not allowed under the Constitution, we might read that “the Supreme Court ruled that the evidence was not properly obtained, imposing as a sanction the dismissal of the criminal charges which resulted from such evidence.”
Sanction is a reminder that context is everything in the use of words. Sarcasm is built around context. If one reads a sarcastic statement with no clue that it is intended to be taken as sarcasm, the entire understanding of the statement is the opposite of its intended meaning. “Thanks for being so helpful” might be the comment of a customer dealing with an unhelpful sales clerk at a big retail outlet. Hearing the comment, its inflection, and seeing the expressions of the person making it help us realize the comment was made sarcastically, not literally.
Some people lack a sarcasm detector in a world where sarcasm is common. This can lead to serious misunderstandings, since some people love to use sarcasm and do so regularly. That’s the reason sarcasm is best used around those with whom we have personal history. If we understand their sarcasm, we can better know which of their comments to sanction (accept and approve) and which of their comments to sanction (disapprove and penalize).
Sanction and sarcasm. Two words which help make the English language endlessly amusing.
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
All Rights Reserved.
Jim “Pappy” Moore is a native son of East Texas who still makes the piney woods his home. firstname.lastname@example.org