Simanaitis Says

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WE LIVE IN times that are ripe for ironic, sardonic, sarcastic, and satiric commentary. It’s fun to savor such wit, all the better when we observe the nuances among these four adjectives.

According to Merriam-Webster, ironic is the adjectival form of “irony,” the noun defined in part as “a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning, or b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style.”

Ironic’s sibling, sardonic, is defined as “disdainfully or skeptically humor: derisively mocking.”

Curiously, “sardony” isn’t listed in M-W, though “sardonyx” is. Sardonyx is an onyx with parallel layers of sard.

This is in no sense meant sardonically.

Ironic’s cousin, sarcastic, is defined, you guessed it, as having the character of “sarcasm,” which M-W defines as “1: a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain, and 2: a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.”

Last, satiric and its variant “satirical” are adjectives of the noun “satire,” which M-W defines as “1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn, and 2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.”

I pause here for you to consider the current political scene and recall your favorite examples of ironic, sardonic, sarcastic, or satirical commentary. I leave “trenchant” as an exercise. (If it reminds you of cutting trenches, full marks.)

Nuances among our quartet are many. Irony doesn’t have to be scornful; it’s just counter to reality: “Is it hot enough for you?”

If a subtle dig is intended, it’s sardonic: “Don’t you love his hair?”

Image of Reuters Video in The Sydney Morning Herald.

If it’s intended as an insult, it’s sarcastic: “He sure has the greatest words.”

And I suspect if its trenchancy is particularly well wrought, or you use enough bigly words, it qualifies as satiric.

The Complete Flanders & Swann, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, EMI Europe, 2010.

My favorite 20th-century satire includes the works of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, Tom Lehrer, as well as Stan Freberg’s The United States of America, Vol. 1, The Early Years, and Vol 2, The Middle Years.

Among my current favorites are the songs of Sandy and Richard Riccardi and The New Yorker essays of Andy Borowitz. A Borowitz title: “Trump Unable to Stop Caravan of Democratic Women Invading Washington.”

Sometimes, a photo has inherent satiric value. Image from

It’s a great time for being ironic, sardonic, sarcastic, and satiric. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. jlalbrecht64
    November 24, 2018

    My petty inner child doesn’t really care how “not as rich as he says he is” Trump actually is. For some reason, I’m looking forward to when someone finally leaks details about Trump’s hair. Yes, I said it is petty. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But it would interesting to see a couple “before” photos and – not being a hair stylist expert (or even a hair stylist) – I’d like to know how many minutes or hours a day someone needs to perform that confectionary magic on top of his head. Again, I know this means nothing to the world – but I just can’t help myself wondering.

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