Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

“Okay, at this point you’re abusing sarcasm”: Figurative language and negative emotion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Okay, at this point you’re abusing sarcasm”: Figurative language and negative emotion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Amelia Baumgarten       

Research on the uses of figurative language tends to concentrate on how people perceive and understand non-literal language.  Relatively few studies focus on the discourse goals achieved by figurative language or the relationship between popular media and language use.  This paper discusses how figurative language can be used to express negative emotions and the ways in which a popular television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, uses figurative language to achieve this goal.  A literature review of research on the discourse goals of figurative language, the theories on the use of verbal irony, the communication of emotion, and youth language provide the background information necessary for a content analysis of dialogue from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Examples of figurative language being used to fulfill nearly every discourse goal, linguistic theory, and emotional paradigm outlined in the literature review were found in the content analysis.  The paper also shows that figurative language is adept at communicating negative emotions.  It was determined that there is a parallel between the way figurative language is used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the way it is used in American culture.  Further research is necessary to know if figurative language is equally adept at communicating positive emotions.  Additionally, to truly understand the relationship between the language used in a scripted television show and the language used in reality, a study must be done to measure the effects of popular language on script writers and the effect popular media has on language use in a culture.

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Great topic! I love when anthropology can dovetail with our personal interests in a way that is beneficial to both. I’d like to read this paper in its entirety. “I hate being obvious. All fangy and grrr” but Buffyisms are a favorite of mine.

    Comment by Edward Rohn | April 18, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you! I very much enjoyed writing a paper on something that’s as close to my heart as Buffy. I am in the process of editing the paper, but would be glad to forward it on to you when it is finished. Is there an email address you would like me to send it to?

      Comment by Amelia Baumgarten | April 19, 2012 | Reply

  2. I would love to read this paper, too! I’m also an avid Buffy fan. My husband and I quote it all the time. I am interested in your observation that the figurative language is primarily used to communicate negative emotions rather than positive ones. I don’t know if this is part of what you are considering, but my concern with this type of language is that it is so negative. i have a 6 year old daughter and it is difficult to explain that something can be funny on TV *because* it would be so inappropriate in real life. It is difficult to find TV shows it is safe for her to watch because she will mimic the sarcasm and rude, negative remarks on TV, not realizing they are rude. Even when we keep her away from those influences, she comes home from school making snarky remarks because that is how all of her little friends talk because they see it on TV and among their older siblings. I have noticed that many younger people’s primary form of small talk and communication is to make funny, sarcastic comments about something, anything. It’s as if they do not know how to open or continue a conversation on the positive aspects of something. The negative stuff is funnier, but generally shallow and empty, lacking substance or useful critique. At least if you focus on the positive, you are not left with nothing but a bad taste in your mouth at the end of the conversation.

    Comment by Joy Rosenberry Chase | April 20, 2012 | Reply

  3. I too would like to read your paper. I am a Buffy (and Angel) fan. Actually I appreciate all of Joss Whedon’s work, in large part because of the writing/dialogue. Rather than finding it mostly negative, I found it to be more expressive and intelligent than other television shows in production at the time. There was an element of shorthand and getting to the point, in addition to a poetic aspect. I am glad you had the opportunity to choose such a rich topic for your paper.

    Comment by Cynthia | September 7, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Cynthia! Thanks so much for your interest in the paper! It’s always such a pleasure to find fellow Whedon fans. I would love to share it with you. Please shoot me an email at so that I can forward it to you.

      Comment by Amelia Baumgarten | September 8, 2012 | Reply

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