UCLA linguist vastly overestimates prevalence of sarcasm

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A casual inspection of the 59 (true) Google hits on "Oooo, you look", suggests that Dr. Willis Jensen, a recent presenter in the brownbag lunch series at Language Log Plaza, vastly overestimated the correlation between utterance initial "Oooo" and sarcasm: the true rate is less than 50%. However, he is correct to identify "Oooo" as a common marker of sarcasm, e.g. the comment "oooo. you look lovely:)" in the comments here from the above search.

(A video report on Dr. Jensen's groundbreaking work is below the fold.)

Report: 70 Percent Of All Praise Sarcastic


  1. Sili said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    Well, you must give Dr Jensen (/jɛns(ə)n/as it's spelt, not /dʒɛns(ə)n/) the benefit of the doubt. He may well have been misquoted – we need to check "ooooo" and "oooooo" too. Perhaps even "ooo" and "ooh".

    (The proper first reply would of course have been "O RLY?")

  2. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

    Another relevant, clever, and amusing video:


  3. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    Oooo, I write and say "oooo" only with the opposite intent – that is, as a kind of verbal exclamation point, e.g., "Oooo, you look beautiful" meaning you truly do.
    I suspect this may be a male/female difference.

    To signal sarcasm, I might write "heh" rather than compromise my dignity with a smiley mark. :)

  4. Allison said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    Wait, the Onion interviewed a real linguist?

    And we're teasing him for the claims he made on an onion news report?

    I'm confused…

    [(myl) As far as I know, alas, Dr. Jensen is as fictitious as Dr. Albert Greaves and all the other researchers cited in Onion stories over the years. ]

  5. Justin E. said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Oooooo. How interesting.

    (How convenient it might be to be able to gauge my intended level of sarcasm accurately. Of course, this aside offers some insight.)

  6. Virtual Linguist said,

    July 13, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    I can't hear 'oooh' without being reminded of 1960s/70s British comedian Dick Emery, whose catchphrase was 'Oooh, you are awful …'. See this clip.

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