What is Snark?

Sultans of Snark: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (November 2006).

Abusive and sarcastic speech or writing--a form of invective. Depending on the speaker, subject, and audience, snark may be perceived as either witty or asinine, sophisticated or sophomoric. Adjective: snarky.

The word snark first appeared in Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark (1874). The Snark, Carroll says, is "a peculiar creature" with a talent for avoiding capture. In its contemporary sense, the term is generally regarded as a portmanteau word--a blend of "snide" and "remark."

Examples and Observations:

  • "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception."
    (Groucho Marx)
  • "I stand by this man [President George W. Bush]. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world."
    (Stephen Colbert, address at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association, 2006)
  • "They always throw around this term 'the liberal elite.' And I keep thinking to myself about the Christian right. What's more elite than believing that only you will go to heaven?"
    (Jon Stewart, The Daily Show)
  • "[I]t’s in Frances’ satirical mini-rants, aphorisms and meandering recollections . . . that Chalcot Crescent comes alive, allowing [Fay] Weldon to direct her famous she-devil snark at whatever targets strike her fancy: sex, marriage, children, careers, jealousy, aging."
    (Tom DeHaven, "Winking at the Apocalypse." The New York Times Book Review, Oct. 15, 2010)
  • The Social Function of Snark
    "Snark is not the same as hate speech, which is abuse directed at groups. Hate speech slashes and burns, and hopes to incite, but without much attempt at humor. . . .
    "Snark attacks individuals, not groups, though it may appeal to a group mentality, depositing a little bit more toxin into already poisoned waters. Snark is a teasing, rug-pulling form of insult that attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness, and it appeals to a knowing audience that shares the contempt of the snarker and therefore understands whatever references he makes. . . .
    "Snark often functions as an enforcer of mediocrity and conformity. In its cozy knowingness, snark flatters you by assuming that you get the contemptuous joke. You've been admitted, or readmitted, to a club, though it may be the club of the second-rate."
    (David Denby, Snark: A Polemic in Seven Fits. Simon & Schuster, 2009)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What is Snark?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/snark-definition-1691969. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What is Snark? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/snark-definition-1691969 Nordquist, Richard. "What is Snark?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/snark-definition-1691969 (accessed June 5, 2023).