Battling Sinful Sarcasm

A friend recently introduced me as her “sarcastic friend.” She said it was my sarcasm that convinced her we’d hit it off. Isn’t that how Jesus said we would be known? You know, by our sarcasm?

Over the course of a few email exchanges we pegged each other’s sense of humor. By the first time we met face to face, she felt like a sister. She says sarcasm is her “sixth love language.” For years it’s been mine too. From my Texas heart to her Northern one, our two different breeds of sarcasm complemented one another. In silliness, smirks, and jesting, we fluently communicated our love for the gospel, our families, and a plethora of other randomness.

Sarcasm has always come naturally to me. It is often the way I communicate love to those I feel the most comfortable around. The better I know you, the more I enjoy joking around. Innocent quips are my kind of hug.

If my sarcasm always felt like a loving and innocent hug, there’d be no reason to question my heart’s motives. But when my humor feels more like a slap in the face, when people don’t “get” my sarcasm, and my jokes leave behind a wake of wounded brothers and sisters, I’m forced to dig a little deeper and face the facts.

Sarcasm Isn’t Innocent

It’s insincere. When a friend says something hurtful to me, I might say, “Man! What a jerk!” The semi-joking tone suggests I’m only kidding. Really, I mean it with all my heart. By making jokes I pretend I’m not hurt. I jab back and hope my sharp humor sends the message loud and clear: “I’m hurt. Back off.” When in pain, I slip on sarcasm as a mask.

It’s lazy. It’s certainly easier and less socially awkward to hide behind humor when I feel threatened or embarrassed. But dealing in sarcasm is at best a temporary fix and at worst a catalyst for deeper and more substantial relational strain. Primarily or, worse, exclusively confronting troubles in sarcasm is a passive-aggressive way to address my own sins and the sins of others.

It’s dangerous. Regularly wielding sarcasm as a shield or a weapon—whether intentionally or unintentionally—can be problematic and dangerous. When I’m well-versed in witty banter yet lacking in words of edification and love, my sarcastic personality is no longer humorous; it’s just hurtful.

Lightheartedly Hateful

Let’s call a spade a spade: sarcasm often gives us license to be lightheartedly hateful. Only I can look inside my heart and determine when I’m honoring God with my sense of humor and when I’m grieving his name. When my sarcasm condemns, judges, shames, or isolates God’s image-bearers, I sin against God’s cherished craftsmanship.

I want desperately to grow in holiness and be known by my love instead of my sarcasm. Humor is a part of who God made me, and it’s my job to learn to submit my snark at the foot of the cross and wield my powers for good, not evil.

Over the past few months the Holy Spirit has helped me identify the crouching sins associated with my sarcasm. Asking the following questions has helped in my battle against sinful sarcasm:

1. Is there even an ounce of truth behind my sarcasm? 

“Good morning, honey! I see you’ve decided to leave all the drawers open this morning. What an interesting choice!” A chuckle and seemingly innocent “just kidding” doesn’t hide the fact I’m actually quite irritated with my husband for failing to remember open drawers are a major pet peeve.

If there’s truth behind the barb, ditch the sarcasm. It’s nothing but fancy-schmancy passive-aggressiveness, and it leads to bitterness, anger, and unresolved conflict. Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). In some cases, love may require me to flee the temptation to be sarcastic (1 Tim. 6:11) and wait for the Spirit to change the meditations of my heart (Ps. 19:14)

2. Would God be more glorified by my silence than my humor?

We’ve all heard this adage: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” When in doubt, I should pray the words of Psalm 141:3, that the Lord would set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips. My words are powerful. Submitting my sense of humor to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit honors God and protects those around me.

3. Will words of edification bring more joy to the hearer than words of sarcasm?

My jokes have the potential to get a few chuckles, but my edification can extend God’s grace (Heb. 12:15), admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). In light of eternity, choosing to encourage and lift a soul is infinitely more valuable than a few seconds of belly laughs.

Grace for the Sarcastic

By the grace of God, my sinful sarcastic tendencies have been confronted many times over. If yours have, too, don’t despair. There’s grace for the sarcastic. Christ died while we were yet joking, jabbing, and laughing at others. He came to pardon our prideful, mocking, and rebellious hearts. He made a way for us to be restored to fellowship with the Father when we deserved punishment and hell.

God’s unmerited grace through Christ leads me to repentance when my sarcasm goes too far. It compels me to apologize when my words cut deep.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not sarcastically banter our way out of relationships with one another. Let’s keep humor funny and sin mournful. May we steward our humor by the grace of God and keep our sarcasm from masking unholy heart attitudes.

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  • Devin

    Thank you very much for this insight. I’ve long felt convicted over my sarcasm yet it still haunts me daily. There is grace for us and it does feel real when we tell people what we really thing in a clear way.

  • Lori

    This is something that God has been convicting me on for some time now. I used to claim to be part of the “National Sarcasm Society” but as I have seen over time (and especially since joining Facebook) sarcasm can really cut people deep. If we think about it, the intent of sarcasm is always to convey that we are superior to the vicitm of our joke. There is no humility in that.

  • Joshua W

    While reading, I found myself wondering whether sarcasm is innately sinful, or whether it is simply a form of literary expression that sinful humans are prone to employ sinfully. Having reviewed several of the finest online dictionaries, it appears “sarcasm” implies a hurtful intent and a sinful motive, being a subset of the broader category of “irony”. Obviously, I went to such lengths to avoid being convicted by the rightness of your article.

    • Mary Lichlyter

      Ouch! I had to turn in my PhD in sarcasm many years ago, because I was SO good at it and I had a sneaking suspicion I was dishonoring God. One thing I discovered right away: without my clever sarcastic remarks, I… had almost nothing to say. It took me quite a while to get the brain and the heart going again, and to learn to listen to others and talk to them in a *real* way. Humor is good, but if I’m going to make jokes, I need to make them “as blunt as the fencer’s foils, which hit, but hurt not,” as a better humor/sarcasm expert – William Shakespeare – wrote.

  • Chad Damewood

    Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!”

    (Proverbs 26:18-19 ESV)

    Guilty as charged.

    • Leigh Ann

      This verse is placed prominently on our refrigerator! It might be there a while. ;)

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  • Melody

    I don’t know, you seem to be advocating a kind of over-earnest, flat communication that rules out subtlety or nuance.

    You’re talking about it not being honest – but sometimes referring to things obliquely lets people tip their toes in subject matter they wouldn’t ever jump into all at once.

    If I couldn’t be sarcastic, I probably wouldn’t talk about anything. Ever. Because I could never work up to it.

    I’m not saying it can’t be wrong – of course it can. So can almost any style of speech if you use it to hurt. I just don’t think it has to be.

    • RJH

      I may be wrong, but it doesn’t seem that the writer here seems to be advocating a communication style ruling out subtlety or nuance altogether. I also don’t see anywhere in the article a proscriptive response to sarcasm besides submitting it to the Lord when in sin. Is the writer making the claim that all sarcasm is in sin? I don’t think so, but this is maybe where there is a disconnect in my reading of this…
      Something I think the writer could point out is the prevalence of sarcasm overlying our mainstream ‘hipster’ cultures’ communication method. Noting its insincerity and laziness in particular. Using sarcasm does make it easier to express oneself by, in a way, masking ones’ true feelings. Whereby being able to shield behind sarcasm in the case that the attempt at humor does indubitably fail.

  • Brent

    I don’t recall so much sarcasm when I was growing up. It seems to have spread from television. I am from the South, and people here were traditionally plain-spoken. People never said the opposite of what they meant, not even in a joking way. Jokes were direct. It seems that television has infused our minds with a type of “wit” from the North and West where jokingly saying the opposite of what reality says is seen as good humor. It is a big problem. I think it started with the expression, “Yeah, right.”

    In the glorious South, we don’t need sarcasm. Our compliments hurt enough people. There’s always the sting of hurtful instruction latent in a southern compliment.

    • Mark Zellner

      Interestingly enough Brent, I have a friend who moved overseas to Asia, and he said that there sarcasm doesn’t exist as a form of communication at all that he’s ever seen. Furthermore, using it in conversation only tended to confuse the people he was speaking with, who didn’t have a frame of reference for it.

  • Antonio

    If sarcasm is sinful, then Yaweh (Job 38-39 and more), Jesus (Matt 23:24, Matt 7:3-6), Paul (Galatians 5:12, 2 Cor 12:13), and Elijah (1 Kings 18) sinned when using it. Like many things, sarcasm can be used sinfully, and in this you are correct, but there is a way it can, and possibly should be used.

    Col 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

    I would be careful to judge that all sarcasm is bad when there are no verses in the Bible to support that, but I also would say that, like anything (including jokes, drinking, or even “kindness”) there are ways humans can use it sinfully.

    When we are “kind” in that we decide not to let our “sarcasm … judge, shame, or isolate God’s image-bearers,” when it NEEDS to, then we “sin against God’s cherished craftsmanship.” I left out condemn because we should not do that.

    We are called to judge and when Paul does that, he’s shaming the Corinthians: ” When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV)

    There are also cases where isolation is necessary from those who called themselves our brethren: ” It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
    For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
    Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
    I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5 ESV)

    We cannot and should not take too far the world’s idea of unity, nor should we avoid sarcasm outright or judge those who do not. I will repeat again, however, that it CAN be used sinfully and for those who feel they should abstain from it to prevent abuse, I encourage them to do so, for ” And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:47 ESV). :)

    • Brent

      I would not classify those scripture passages as sarcasm. They seem to be contrasts instead of sarcasm.

      • Antonio

        Please tell me how any of them (and especially all of them) are contrasts and not sarcasm (especially since the opposite of sarcasm is not a contrast and therefore it could just as easily be both).

        Elijah asking if Baal is “relieving himself” and Paul wishing that “those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves” are nothing like contrasts. Jesus calling the Pharisees “blind guides” who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” is certainly sarcasm, as is the Father’s (I assume, but either way it was God) discussion with Job where he asked:

        “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
        Tell me, if you have understanding.
        Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
        Or who stretched the line upon it?
        On what were its bases sunk,
        or who laid its cornerstone,
        when the morning stars sang together
        and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
        (Job 38:4-7 ESV)

        If that’s not sarcasm (irony used to mock or show contempt) I don’t know what is. He knows for sure that Job doesn’t know these things and knows the answer. He is clearly mocking and showing contempt, so I ask again, if I am wrong, please show me, but do not just assert it and assume that I should take your assertion over the clarity of the Scriptures.

        • Brent

          Sorry I gave such an incomplete comment earlier. I did not mean that they all are contrasts. Here is what I see in the statements you mentioned.

          “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
          This does not seem sarcastic to me, but rhetorical. The whole passage is rhetorical, not sarcastic.
          Sarcasm is “You were there when I laid the foundation of the earth, weren’t you?”

          Also, Matthew 23:24 “You blind guides straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” is not sarcasm as I see it.

          Sarcasm would be “You certainly are not straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel, are you?”

          Anyway, I was not trying to call you out or anything, so please do not take offense or think I am disagreeing with the Scriptures. I just think the definition of sarcasm does not fit with some of your examples.

          • Mark Zellner

            There *might* be some form of sarcasm present in the Bible. But Christians are not focusing on what’s important when they try to defend sarcasm with biblical examples.

            In all cases you’ve mentioned, humor was not the intended effect on the audience, stern rebuke was. For that reason I’d say it’s still hard to justify sarcastic joking.

            • Antonio

              You may have a point on some of those, though I would place many (most?) rhetorical questions as ironic mocking. Especially when it’s known to be ironic. I’d consider the All-Powerful Creator of the Universe asking a simple man about the creation of the world as irony. So we may just have our definitions crossed. :)


              Sarcasm is the use of irony for mock or contempt. Sarcasm can be used in an evil manner and even for humor, but it is not mandatory for it to be so. The lack of humor is therefore no point at all.

              If those who “defend sarcasm with Biblical examples” are not focusing on what’s important, than it must follow that those attacking sarcasm without Biblical examples are focusing on things of even less importance.

  • Frank Turk

    In the same way that it is entirely unhelpful to always only say nice things to people and never object to anything, it is also entirely unhelpful to always be sarcastic and biting. To cast both of these things out as just unhelpful is, itself, unhelpful.

    Let’s use salt like salt, sugar like sugar, and not merely expect everything to taste like white bread.

    • Joe

      I see your point Frank, so this is just a general observation (from trading your writings) in love of course; you could use a lot more sugar if you want to live out what you just wrote in your post above ;)

    • David Pitman

      Agreed, Frank.

  • Steve Cornell

    Thank you for sharing with transparency. A very helpful book related to this subject is “Seeing Through Cynicism” by Dick Keyes. There is an obvious connection between sarcasm and cynicism. I’ve written a brief review of this book at

  • Mark B.

    This was one of my favorite lines.
    “Let’s call a spade a spade: sarcasm often gives us license to be lightheartedly hateful.”

    Ouch! I am finding out more and more that this is the case in my life.

  • Greg Harris

    Thanks for this post Lindsey, it was fantastic! I especially liked it when you said:
    “Let’s keep humor funny and sin mournful. May we steward our humor by the grace of God and keep our sarcasm from masking unholy heart attitudes.”

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  • Hannah Anderson

    Those of us who have struggled with sinful sarcasm are probably most likely to “get” Carleson’s point. For me, sarcasm was a way to belittle people and show myself superior to them by making their ideas and lives the brunt of my jokes. It was very destructive both to them and my own heart–even becoming somewhat addictive. If sarcasm is your go-to response, the first step to recovery might be cold-turkey abstinence and then gradually learning to master it, instead of being mastered by it.

  • Mark Zellner

    THANK YOU so much for this post. I am so glad to see this message getting some widespread attention.
    I used to be very sarcastic, but over the years saw my caustic humor bring more grimaces and winces than smiles and laughs. I’ve also been on the cutting end of sarcastic comments that were really daggers wrapped in cotton. You have set some excellent guidelines for determining what should come out of our mouths.

  • Russell

    I’ve been dealing with this problem for a while now. Just this morning I was thinking and praying on how I can eliminate this from my repotoire. Then I “happened upon” this article. I cannot say thank you enough for your words. This is medicine to my soul!

  • Heather Carrillo

    I’d like to add another big THANK YOU. Sometimes I feel like sarcasm is the “cool” way to talk to each other, but I’ve only seen it as hurtful.

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  • Jacob

    Is it a Black & White area though? Is every bit of sarcasm, at all times, ever used.. a bad thing? Or can simple sarcastic jokes between friends when they all know that’s how they joke with each other and exchange laughs from the sarcasm be all good and fun?

    I believe that it may be a grey area. Now that being said my sarcasm is sinful a lot of the time. I do use it in wrong ways, and most people do. But I believe there are times when it isn’t. That’s why I would view this as a grey area.

  • Frank

    In a sense most of us could be in on this sarcasm business. I think most of us, at least those whom I’ve met, worked with, etc., have used sarcasm. So even when we wouldn’t consider ourselves sarcastic, it’s easy enough to do. Someone mentioned TV being a possible culprit here. With the advent of the situation comedies and slapstick on TV forty or so years ago, I can see why that would be a factor in sarcasm being more used. It seems to me when the sarcasm is used in ways to mask belittling someone, then it is wrong.

  • Roger Upton

    Guess I should burn all my Tim Hawkins c.d.s…

    • Paul Ellsworth

      Sometimes, I wonder about jokes in the vein of TH’s. As an example, what do you think Paul or Peter would have said about someone in an NT church that was known for making fun of the way people worshiped God? Somehow, I doubt they would have looked too favorably upon it… except perhaps in the “you honor Christ when you suffer ridicule for Christ’s sake.” I would hate to be the one ridiculing in that situation.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 S

    Mmmm, I somewhat disagree. Couching something “negative” inside a joke softens it a bit. It says, “I realize I’m calling attention to something unpleasant at the moment, but here’s a joke to soften the blow.”

    NOW, that said, some people use nothing BUT sarcasm. And some are too negative in general (Yes, this includes me in particular… I’m a bit of a perfectionist, though, in mitigation, I demand as much of myself as others) , and as such the sarcasm can be as tedious as the negativism.

    The point stands, I believe — if there’s too much sarcasm, it’s not the sarcasm that’s the issue, it’s really the negativism behind it that needs to be worked on. The sarcasm is probably just fine by itself.

    • andrew

      why is sarcasm necessary? why not just come out and speak your mind plainly if you have issues with things?

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  • ks

    True story: On one Father’s Day, a pastor of the Southern California megachurch I used to attend affirmed his father, who was sitting in the audience, for passing his sarcasm on to him.

    And what about snarkiness? The cool Christians are proud of themselves for being snarky.

    • Hannah Anderson

      Yeah, I’m frustrated with snarkiness being touted as a virtue.

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  • Ann

    I grew up with a father that was very sarcastic whether it was in a joking fashion or when angry. In both cases it was painful and demeaning. I picked it up but not to the extreme that he used it. When I hit my mid 30’s I really toned it down because the Lord showed me it was destructive. Having said that there is an innocent fun sarcasm that is playful among friends. I still do this with my closest friends.

    I have a pastor who is very cynical and openly admits it. And his sarcasm from the pulpit has hurt people. Sarcasm that hurts and demeans people is all about unresolved anger. It is very destructive. We all learn and grow as we get more life experience. Hopefully people who use the destructive form of sarcasm can grow out of it.

  • Susan

    A seminary professor of mine once said (as a comment on Psalm 15:3) that sarcasm is like “surgery with a chainsaw.” That was over 30 years ago – I’ve never forgotten it.

  • andrew

    For me, a sarcastic tone in nearly every exchange with a former girlfriend was a contributing reason why i broke it off with her. how on earth do you know what someone is really meaning or thinking when they are constantly rephrasing their words to have the opposite meaning? Add to that the constant feeling that i was seen as uncaring for “not getting it” when she was sarcastic, and that .

    It’s not a nice form of wit. For sure it may have its place in small doses (as many poisons also have medicinal purposes in small doses) but for me it was really unpleasant.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

  • Dave Boettcher

    The key is to understand the scope of the question and respond whith in that context. To do otherwise is to infer a different statement or question by the author.

    Notice here the focus is on battling sinful sarcasm. It clear the author is asserting, at least for this article, that there is sinful and nonsinful sarcasm.

    I believe that is valid point. Linsey has reminded me to watch for and make that distinction least I sin. My co-worker engage in sarcasm which is not sinful.

    I suppose part of this is knowing whom one speaks, for to hurt them would be wrong. On the other side to say all sarcasm is sin, bounders on legalism. In that case the weight of the law kills all. As Jesus teaches to think is to do.

    Where does this leave me? I must decide if I can participate in sarcasm without sining or being lead into sin. Thus, battling sinful sarcasm, I think, is the appropriate question. One is battling sin no matter the form. What is sin my life and what will lead me in to sin, I must be on constant vigil. Lindsey has turned on a light house to help us all avoid a rock.

  • Mark Zellner

    In my mind there is an important difference between inter-personal sarcasm and sarcasm through public discourse. Certain preachers use sarcasm (often, effectively) to combat false teaching, comedians like Tim Hawkins or Jon Acuff use it to creatively point out flaws and silly trends with church culture. Although I’m not necessarily a fan of these sorts of things, I still view them differently than someone who makes sarcastic remarks frequently in interpersonal dialogue. It is likely however that the one encourages the other.

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  • David Pitman

    What we really need is an antidote for hyper-sensitivity. ;)

    • Mark

      Now that’s a really interesting comment David, and I’m gonna swing that in a direction I’m sure you didn’t intend. But I think that by and large Christians are much less sensitive to sin and evil than God himself is. One of the greatest factors that has contributed to my sanctification has been seeking to be as sensitive to my error as He is.

      I know you were just joking, but I couldn’t resist the idea. :)

      • David Pitman

        Good point, Mark. I am not offended. ;)

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  • Charlie

    During a debate about missions, the anti-missions person once showed me a video by Blimey Cow/Messy Mondays in which the speaker screamed that people who go on mission trips are just selfish rich kids going on glorified spring break sightseeing tours to show off how super spiritual they are while causing missionary families to starve. Needless to say my heart for missions was offend and hurt and showed it in my respond. (long story about a long conversation). They defended the video saying it was was sarcasm and bowled me for my response, calling me judgmental and legalist. However the whole video was judgment and legalist but that was okay because it was just sarcastic? The guy is violating almost every Scripture dealing with the use of the tongue and is insulting people, but it’s okay because it’s sarcasm? So a guy is yelling at people who he has no idea what amount of money they donate to full-times mission agencies, or even that a missionary sibling might have donated to their mission trip, that their efforts to serve the Lord are causing missionary families to starve and I am just supposed to laugh? I am sorry, but that’s just not funny. Let alone Christian.
    I believe it is the height of unchristian love to insult someone and then criticize them if they respond in anger by claiming sarcasm as high moral ground. It’s totally ignores Proverbs 25:1

    • Charlie

      proverbs 15:1

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  • Heather

    The only problem I have here is that I see much giving of examples of how sarcasm CAN be used sinfully and, in a sense, casting out the baby with the bathwater. I know several delightful people who frequently employ sarcastic, dry and witty humor, but they do not do so in a way that degrades or disguises anything. They are sarcastic folks, true — but ask anyone what they’re known for, and they’re known for their love. We must be careful with blanket statements. :)

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