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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.

See also:


Originally an imaginary animal created by Lewis Carroll in his nonsense poem "The Hunting of the Snark" (1874). Generally regarded today as 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)

  • "Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream."
    (Rush Limbaugh)

  • "Just how much did Karl Rove hate not being one of the cool guys in the 60’s? Enough to hatch schemes to marshal the forces of darkness to take over the country?"
    (Maureen Dowd)

  • "I contend that snark, as an attitude, as a tone, can be good when defined as 'a behavior that is a wonderfully witty combination of sarcasm and cynicism.' It sounds nice, right? Kinda cool. Kinda hip, sorta boring . . . but nice.

    "But when it's defined as 'snotty and/or arrogant' . . . yeah, way more fun."
    (Lawrence Dorfman, The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring. Skyhorse, 2009)

  • "President Obama was sufficiently gracious in welcoming the World Champion New York Yankees to the White House today, as he has done for other winning teams from other leagues. But he did include a bit more snark in his remarks than usual, acknowledging the polarizing nature of Major League Baseball's all-time winningest franchise.

    "'This is a team that goes down to spring training every year expecting to win it all--and more often than not, you guys get pretty close,' Obama said at a ceremony in the East Room. 'That attitude, that success, has always made the Yankees easy to love--and, let's face it, easy to hate as well.'"
    (Mike Memoli, "Jeter To Obama: Careful With The Yankee Shots." Real Clear Politics Blog at Time, April 26, 2010)

  • "Snark is considered cool, hip. Just listen to any late night comedian. They use that style liberally and with great effect. Listen to college students speak among themselves and you'll hear the same sly, knowing, condescending invective used by them in attempts to: 1) separate themselves from the mainstream; and 2) declare to each other that they are all part of the same contemporary group."
    (Richard Telofski, Insidious Competition: The Battle for Meaning and the Corporate Image. iUniverse, 2010)

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