Snark vs. Wit
March 23, 2008 10:06 PM   Subscribe

What is the difference between snark and wit?

The first entry in the Urban Dictionary claims that "snark" is a portmanteau of "snide" and "remark". Obviously the word is much older than that, but perhaps in this sense the etymology is correct. Having read lots of Michael Quinion, I'm wary of these types of claims.

I checked Webster's Third International, but all I got was a synonym of "snore" or "snort", chiefly a British usage...

I don't have immediate access to the OED.

Frankly I think I first encountered the term "snark" here on Metafilter, and I've been somewhat confused trying to figure out its meaning through context.

Sometimes it seems to mean humorless negativity, as you would expect from "snide remark". But other times it seems to mean what I think of as "wit", a carefully crafted short remark that includes humor, which may or may not be biting.

Sadly, I understand the meaning of "asshattapalooza" better than "snark".
posted by Tube to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always understood snark to have malicious underpinnings, whereas wit is just being clever.
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:08 PM on March 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


OED:

2. intr. and trans. To find fault (with), to nag.
1882 Jamieson's Sc. Dict. IV. 314/2 To Snark,..to fret, grumble, or find fault with one. 1904 E. NESBIT Ph{oe}nix & Carpet x. 185 He remembered how Anthea had refrained from snarking him about tearing the carpet.


Also: Snarky:

Irritable, short-tempered, ‘narky’.
1906 E. NESBIT Railway Children ii. 49 Don't be snarky, Peter. It isn't our fault. 1913 J. VAIZEY College Girl xxiv. 326 ‘Why should you think I am “snarky”?’ ‘Because{em}you are! You're not a bit sociable and friendly.’ 1953 E. COXHEAD Midlanders x. 247 I've known you were the soul of kindness, under that snarky way. a1974 R. CROSSMAN Diaries (1976) II. 627 We also have to overcome something else{em}the stream of anti-government propaganda, smearing, snarky, derisive, which comes out of Fleet Street.

posted by vacapinta at 10:09 PM on March 23, 2008


Anyone can be snarky, but it takes intelligence to be witty.
posted by amyms at 10:12 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


The first answer nailed it.
posted by jejune at 10:17 PM on March 23, 2008


Snark is what we use in MetaTalk, wit is what we use in AskMe.

The intent of the speaker is what differentiates the words. If the speaker wants to make you feel like an ass, s/he'll be snarky.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:18 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always imagined snark coming with a hint of a sneer. Wit, on the other hand, includes a grin or a wink. Quite different.
posted by MadamM at 10:24 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always think of snark as being the sort of thing that gets e-mailed around with subject lines like "OMG SO FUNNY!" and when you read about it, there aren't any actual jokes, just declarative statements like "I don't give a shit about Britney Spears. She's just some fat untalented idiot. I wish someone would hit her in the head with a brick," and that somehow gets translated into surgical satire in some people's minds because wow I hate Britney too! It's true! Someone should hit her!

So to me snark is like artificial wit substitute. Like a fat-free dessert that loads on extra sugar to make up for it, snark hopes to compensate for lack of insight by piling on the venom.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:28 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oif. "When you read it," not "when you read about it."
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:28 PM on March 23, 2008


The first entry in the Urban Dictionary claims that "snark" is a portmanteau of "snide" and "remark".

On an etymological tangent...

I always thought it came from Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, which solidly predates the 1906 use cited by dictionary.com et al. It may well be a portmanteau, considering that Lewis Carroll also coined that term.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:34 PM on March 23, 2008


I put snark with snipe and troll. It's there to get you to waste your time coming up with a good answer to a stupid "ha ha" question. Wit will make you LOL, snark will make you write a long response before you get the "oh, haha".
posted by zengargoyle at 11:44 PM on March 23, 2008


Snark is the start of a snide remark, whereas wit is one part wise, yet still all of it.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:34 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wit is an intelligent, friendly and playful gesture. Snark is a snide, destructive and malicious act.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Snark is the English speaking version of schadenfreude, the sort of humor that comes from the misfortunes of others. Wit derives from the common misfortunes we all suffer, and recognizing that fact. Sometimes there is a small portion of wisdom included, but not always.
posted by motown missile at 3:10 AM on March 24, 2008


I'm not sure it HAS an official definition yet, MeFi is sort of inventing it.

It seems to me that snark is always derogatory toward someone. As MadamM says, it always has a sneer. And it generally seems to come from a vasty-jaded worldview, the 'well of COURSE the White House lost the hard drives' kind of attitude.

Yeah, snark as "jaded, slightly-veiled sneering"... that's a definition I think I could back.
posted by Malor at 4:05 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


(by the way, I don't think this is chatfilter, because some answers can be clearly wrong.)
posted by Malor at 4:07 AM on March 24, 2008


Wit is a gleaming scalpel.
Snark is a brick wrapped in shiny paper.
posted by Dizzy at 4:42 AM on March 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


I think snark is a dart to the heart and wit allows for no pain to be inflicted on another.
posted by watercarrier at 6:05 AM on March 24, 2008


For this to make any sense, you have to be talking about things that are ostensibly humorous that come at the expense of someone. Otherwise, wit includes puns and knock-knock jokes.

Wit happens at the expense of other people that I don't particularly like.
Snark happens at my expense, or at the expense of people I like.

Wit is something that I and people I like do.
Snark is something that people I don't like do.

Which is to say that there isn't really any difference. In particular, whether something is positive and playful or negative and destructive will depend primarily on your opinion of the thing or person that the remark is about or your opinion of the speaker. When someone makes a remark, you mentally see a sneer on the faces of people you don't like, and a wink on the face of people you do like.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 AM on March 24, 2008


[a few comments removed - if your answers are merely examples of snark/wit but not also answers to the question, feel free to save them for email or metatalk, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:59 AM on March 24, 2008


I guess I've always gone with the snide remark thing - I think of snark as being what happens in the comments on gawker. So actually, sort of the opposite of this:

Wit happens at the expense of other people that I don't particularly like.
Snark happens at my expense, or at the expense of people I like.

posted by CunningLinguist at 7:00 AM on March 24, 2008


Wit illuminates. Snark abrades.
posted by adamrice at 7:24 AM on March 24, 2008


I think you can have a witty piece of snark - wit is a characteristic of a person, specifically, that he or she is clever and amusing in speech/writing; snark's defined by what its trying to do, i.e. undermine someone or something down, generally needlessly or with undertones of malice.
posted by YouRebelScum at 7:28 AM on March 24, 2008


Well, first off, snark and wit do pretty clearly overlap. Look at Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde talking trash on their fellow authors for examples that fall into both categories.

Usually, snark is a verbal way of punishing someone for being more optimistic than you. "What? We all know there's nothing new/good/interesting/worthwhile out there! Can you really be so stupid as to think X is new/good/interesting/worthwhile?"

But maybe that's too narrow a definition. A better general definition of snark might be "the sarcastic defense of negative assumptions." The negativity might be aimed at the listener (of course your favorite band sucks) but it might not be (of course the government sucks; of course reporters suck).
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:39 AM on March 24, 2008


The observer's frame of reference. One man's wit is another man's snark.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2008


Wit is internal, a mental process: cleverness. A witty remark is the product of wit.

Snark is a manner of presentation: a snide remark. Snark is a form of address, not a thought process.

Wit can be snarky, snark can be witty; wit can be snarkless, snark can be witless. The seed, the fruit; the fruit, the seed.

Pop! Tutti frutti.
posted by breezeway at 8:21 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wit happens at the expense of other people that I don't particularly like.
Snark happens at my expense, or at the expense of people I like.

Wit is something that I and people I like do.
Snark is something that people I don't like do.


This seems like an entirely plausible answer, probably due to the fact that it reminds me so strongly of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary.

But I'm going to "favorite" Blazecock Pileon's answer, because I feel it is succinct and spot-on, and of course because he's a "contact" of mine...
posted by Tube at 9:46 AM on March 24, 2008


I think of snark as a contraction of snide & sarcastic. Wit is more clever. Many snide, sarcastic, or foolish remarks attempt wit, a few are successful.
posted by theora55 at 10:39 AM on March 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


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