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A text or performance that uses irony, derision, or wit to expose or attack human vice, foolishness, or stupidity. Verb: satirize. Adjective: satiric or satirical.

One of the best known satirical works in English is Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). Contemporary vehicles for satire include The Colbert Report, South Park, and The Onion.

See also:

Satirical Essays:


From the Latin, "medley," "mishmash," or "a dish filled with mixed fruits" (offered to the gods)


  • "Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own, which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it."
    (Jonathan Swift, preface to The Battle of the Books, 1704)

  • "Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. One kind makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity--like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule--that's what I do."
    (Molly Ivins)

  • "A man can’t write successful satire except he be in a calm judicial good-humor; whereas I hate travel, and I hate hotels, and I hate the old masters. In truth I don’t ever seem to be in a good enough humor with anything to satirize it; no, I want to stand up before it & curse it, & foam at the mouth--or take a club & pound it to rags & pulp."
    (Mark Twain, letter to William Dean Howells, 1879)

  • "Satire is a lesson, parody is a game."
    (Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions, 1973)

  • "[S]atire is tragedy plus time. You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers will allow you to satirize it."
    (Lenny Bruce, The Essential Lenny Bruce, ed. by John Cohen, 1967)

  • "[A]busive satire is a wit contest, a kind of game in which the participants do their worst for the pleasure of themselves and their spectators. . . . If the exchange of insults is serious on one side, playful on the other, the satiric element is reduced."
    (Dustin H. Griffin, Satire: A Critical Reintroduction. Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1994)

  • "The general attitude toward satire is comparable to that of members of a family toward a slightly disreputable relative, who though popular with the children makes some of the adults a bit uncomfortable (cf. the critical evaluation of Gulliver's Travels). Shunning is out of the question as is full acceptance. . . .

    "Unruly, wayward, frolicsome, critical, parasitic, at times perverse, malicious, cynical, scornful, unstable--it is at once pervasive yet recalcitrant, base yet impenetrable. Satire is the stranger that lives in the basement."
    (George Austin Test, Satire: Spirit and Art. Univ. Press of Florida, 1991)
Pronunciation: SAT-ire
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