"Mind your own esteemed business": Sarcastic honorifics use and impoliteness in Korean TV dramas

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Honorifics have traditionally been analyzed as markers of "deference" and have been connected with positive values such as "respect", "dignity" and "elegance". However, in this paper, I demonstrate that these readings only apply to normative and stereotypical patterns of honorifics use. When applied in other contexts, where their use is not normally expected, honorifics take on different social meanings, including sarcasm. Through the analysis of Korean television dramas, I show that sarcastic applications of honorifics may be applied both for "mock" impoliteness and "genuine" face-threatening impoliteness. Although these sarcastic usages occur most frequently between intimates (i.e., where the use of honorifics is marked), there also exist devices for being sarcastic towards adult strangers (even though in such contexts honorifics may be considered unmarked and normative). Crucially, my examples demonstrate that honorifics may communicate sarcasm in and of themselves. This sarcastic meaning is strongest when honorifics are applied in ways that remains "relevant"; in other words, when they make reference to knowledge or social norms shared by the community of practice. The findings confirm once and for all that honorifics are not "deferential" in an absolute sense. More broadly, the paper clarifies the position of sarcasm and irony within impoliteness theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-186
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Politeness Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • honorifics
  • impoliteness
  • irony
  • Korean
  • sarcasm
  • TV dramas

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