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Person A:

It stands to reason that progressives do not care about ethics and morality. It is the nature of such evil ideologies.

Person B replies:

Someone who can celebrate the death of someone else’s pet, and say that he hopes it was painful, to think he has some high moral ground… it’s just precious.

Source: Online forums (Both A and B are Americans)

Is the expression "it’s just precious" a sarcastic remark that rebukes Person A's ridiculous logic?

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    It is a sarcastic rebuke, but based on those two sentences, it's not clear who its target is. Jun 28, 2021 at 4:25
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    The pet is precious to the person who lost it.
    – Lambie
    Jun 28, 2021 at 21:06
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    Celebrating the death of someone's pet and hoping it was painful, while claiming the moral high ground at the same time is (sarcastically) precious.
    – gotube
    Jun 29, 2021 at 1:03

2 Answers 2

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It isn't sarcastic. Sarcasm is when we say the opposite of what we mean, but in this kind of context, "precious" is true to its definition.

"Precious" can mean valuable, or important. When somebody says that something they disagree with or object to is "precious", they mean that the moment is a precious moment or memory - something that they want to remember, perhaps because it is valuable for its humour value, or as ammunition in an argument against the person that said it.

A very similar remark is to say that something unfortunate happening to someone you do not like is "priceless", meaning it was valuable to you, yet you could not have paid for or arranged it to happen. A very high-profile advertising campaign for a well-known brand based around the expression "priceless" in reference to unexpected events that may be laughable. The suggestion is that these events are valuable for their humour value, that they may be remembered and repeatedly enjoyed in the future.

Sarcasm is often detectable by the accompanying tone of voice. When people say "that's precious" or "that's priceless" it is often with a condescending tone, but not a sarcastic one.

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    I've always thought of "precious" in contexts like these to be sarcastic, not meaning valuable.
    – gotube
    Jun 29, 2021 at 1:05
  • @gotube Sarcasm is nearly always detectable by a tone of voice. When people say "that is precious" or "that is priceless" they usually say it as they would "fantastic" or "brilliant".
    – Astralbee
    Jun 29, 2021 at 7:14
  • I respectfully disagree. While I agree that sarscastic implies a reversal of the words original meaning like you said, I disagree with your interpretation here. These people are not in a debate and without that context, what you described is a stretch. What's the use of ammunition when conversations are not about winners, but an exchange of information? My interpretation will be that precious here takes the meaning of the implied aspect of "precious" things being rare. But the part of "precious" that implies the object as worthy of cherish is lacking, hence my verdict of it being sarcastic.
    – Isa
    Jun 29, 2021 at 8:47
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    @Isa It isn't my interpretation - as a native British English speaker, that is how I use these words myself. If you live in the UK, you'll know that, in recent years, there was a very high-profile advertising campaign for a well-known brand based around the expression "priceless" in reference to unexpected events that may be laughable. The suggestion is that these events are valuable for their humour value, that they may be remembered and repeatedly enjoyed in the future. The way this expression is used in context is exactly the same as "precious". It isn't sarcasm.
    – Astralbee
    Jun 29, 2021 at 10:16
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    The word 'precious' is sometimes used to describe a person who acts as though they are more valuable than other people around them. Person B's statement about 'someone' may be suggesting their behaviour shows this trait.
    – Peter
    Jun 29, 2021 at 11:59
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I consider this sarcasm because the way "precious" needs to be understood here isn't traditional.

So, "it" within "it's just precious" here should have referred to the events described within the past sentence normally. But the events described previously were not precious in the traditional sense. Meeting the Queen in person and shaking her hand is a precious moment/event. Graduating from University and walking up the stage to get hooded is a precious moment/event. Being able to witness the first time your child started walking is a precious moment / event. These are traditional uses of the word "precious" to describe things that are worthy of remembering, and valuable in a traditional sense. But it's obvious here that, the events described taken at face value has nothing precious about them. Celebrating someone's pet dying is not a precious moment / event. Wishing that someone's pet died painfully is not a precious moment / event. The moment that A considers themselves moral despite their history is not a precious moment / event. Instead, all these things are ridiculous, hypocritical, and laughable. In that sense, calling these events precious can only be understood by understanding the combination of these events as a joke, and the author's choice of using "it" instead of "these" also reflects that intention that the author wasn't intending "it" to refer to the multiple events within the last sentence, but seeing these events as one single joke. The whole sentence, with the context it was spoken under, is a sarcastic remark. And making the remark in a conscending tone doesn't mean that it wasn't a sarcastic remark. The heart of sarcasm is irony, which is certainly present here.

There are other answers that disagreed with what I described above, and they consider the statement not sarcastic. They argued that "precious" was being used the way it meant per the dictionary, hence it cannot be called sarcasm. But embedding sarcasm within a word is only one way to be sarcastic, it doesn't mean that it's the only way to be sarcastic. It's as if one is attempting to understand a paragraph without considering the context and simply by focusing on words (or one word for our case), which is a grossly narrow way of reading that I cannot agree with. For these reasons, I respectfully disagree with the other opinion provided here.

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  • This answer must be sarcastic, because it goes against the dictionary definition of 'sarcasm'.
    – Astralbee
    Jun 30, 2021 at 9:04
  • It doesn't. The dictionary explanation of sarcasm simply by googling is "the use of irony to mock or convey contempt". Irony is present, because of the contrast of A's actions. Mockery is present, because the words are said to exaggerate how ridiculous the situation was with A (joking with A's action). Contempt is present, because B obviously doesn't agree and joked about A. If you disagree, sure. We can agree to disagree.
    – Isa
    Jun 30, 2021 at 21:39

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