When snark is used, the speaker is making a sarcastic comment about something they’ve experienced, heard, seen, or are thinking about. There are many different ways it can be used. In some situations, snarky remarks will sound inappropriate and far too colloquial, while in others, they might come across as witty and clever. This depends in part on the audience and situation and in part on what the comment actually is and how it’s delivered.
Definition of Snark
Someone who makes a snarky comment is criticizing something sharply, sometimes using humor and wit. Depending on how it’s used, the comment might come across as funny, cruel, or clever. Readers should be able to detect cynicism and sarcasm in the comment. These are usually unsolicited comments that are delivered offhandedly. They aren’t planned or easily duplicated with the same effect. Snark is most appealing to those who are in on the joke but aren’t the ones being criticized.
Examples of Snark in Literature
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
In this famed tragedy, Shakespeare uses several different examples of snark. They can be hard to detect considering his use of language and the complex nature of many of the characters. But, when analyzed fully, they’re quite effective. For example, consider these lines from the play:
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
These lines are used in Act II Scene 2 and are spoken by Juliet. She says them during the balcony scene while leaning outside her window. She doesn’t know Romeo is right below her. This is an example of how lightly and cleverly a snarky comment can be used. It doesn’t have to be cruel, outrageous, or over the top. In this case, she’s asking Romeo why his name is Romeo. Or, more broadly, why he belongs to the family he does.
Discover William Shakespeare’s poetry.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
In this well-loved novel, readers can find numerous examples of snark. Two of the best come from Mr. Bennet, the main character’s father. When speaking to Elizabeth, he uses the following quote (speaking about Elizabeth’s sister, Jane).
Your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is your time. Here are officers enough in Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably.
Here, he uses his wit to speak amusingly about Jane’s love affair and Elizabeth’s own prospects at love. Also, consider these lines from earlier on in the novel in which Mrs. Bennet says that her husband has “no compassion for [her] poor nerves.” Mr. Bennet replies with:
You mistake me, my dear. I have high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.
He turns her complaint around into a clever and witty comment about how often she complains about her nerves. It also highlights his patience. One final example can be found in another passage from Mr. Bennet. When speaking about Elizabeth’s possible engagement to Mr. Collins, a man she doesn’t love, he says:
An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
He has his daughter’s best interests at heart and in this quote, he’s revealing what a good father he is.
Explore Jane Austen’s poetry, such as ‘When Stretch’d On One’s Bed.’
Why Do Writers Use Snark?
Writers use snark in dialogue and narration. It’s a way to convey a character’s (or their own) wit in difficult and funny situations. A character might use a snarky comment when they want to express their distaste in a situation, irritation with another character, or are simply interested in lightening a heavy atmosphere. It’s a device that can be used in everyday speech as well. It’s common to hear snarky comments in all kinds of real-world situations.
Snark refers to a type of comment that’s witty, clever, sometimes sarcastic, and always snide in some way.
Snark is used to create humor and pass judgement.
An example of a snarky comment is: “Maybe one day I’ll learn to appreciate you but until that point I’ll be satisfied with feeling nothing but loathing.”
They are similar in many ways but sarcasm is more complicated and can take longer to process.
Cynical, snide, irreverent are all synonyms.
Related Literary Terms
- Sarcasm: a type of verbal irony that expresses contempt, mocks, or ridicules.
- Satire/Satirical Comedy: are used to analyze behaviors to make fun of, criticize, or chastise them in a humorous way.
- Irony: occurs when an outcome is different than expected. It is very possible for one situation to strike one reader as ironic and another not.
- Juxtaposition: a literary technique that places two unlike things next to one another.
- Mood: the feeling created by the writer for the reader. It is what happens within a reader because of the tone the writer used in the poem.
- Narration: the use of commentary, either written or spoken, to tell a story or “narrative.”