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THESE ARE SNARKY times, at least as witnessed by our national leader’s pronouncements. Thus, the word “snarky” is included in my Etymology for Our Times series.

According to Merriam-Webster, “snarky” is defined as “1: crotchey, snappish 2: sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner.” Among its synonyms are crabby, grumpy, irritable, peevish, petulant, short-tempered, and testy.

These descriptions are reminiscent of one’s addled uncle.

Though the characteristic is likely ages-older, the word “snarky” is a relatively recent one: in fact, 1906, according to Merriam-Webster. It suggests that “snark,” “to annoy,” might be related to “nark,” a Briticism for “to irritate” that first appeared in the middle 1800s.

The OED’s first citation for “Snark” is Lewis Carroll’s imaginary animal in The Hunting of the Snark, 1876. It also mentions “to snark” as “to fret, grumble, or find fault with.”

E. Nesbitt’s The Phoenix and the Carpet, a 1904 children’s book, is also cited: “He remembered how Anthena had refrained from snarking about his tearing the carpet.”

Less Restraint Today. There has been plenty of recent presidential snarking. For example, at the March 30, 2020, COVID-19 briefing, CNN journalist Jim Acosta questioned Trump “of the way you downplayed this crisis over the last couple of months.… What do you say to Americans that you got this wrong?”

As reported by BBC News, March 30, 2020, Trump responded, “It’s people like you and CNN that… that it’s why people just don’t want to listen to CNN anymore….I want to keep the country calm. I don’t want to cause panic in the country. I could cause panic, even better than you… I could make you look like a minor league player…. Instead of asking a nasty, snarky question like that, you should ask a real question… and other than that I’m going to go to somebody else.”

Another “teachable moment” gone to waste.

Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10597782ar) from The Guardian.

At the same briefing, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent asked why the U.S. was still not testing as many people per capita as other countries such as South Korea.

Trump responded, “I know South Korea better than anybody…. [He then cited Seoul’s population at 38 million; it’s actually 10 million.] You should be saying congratulations instead of asking a really snarky question, because I know exactly what you mean by that.”

He took no further questions at that briefing.

Image by Evan Vucci/AP from USAToday.

“The Best Words.” According to Wikipedia, which documented attributions, Trump has snarked about “Sloppy Steve” Bannon, “Sleepy Joe” Biden, “Little Michael” Bloomberg, “Crooked Hilary” Clinton, “Leakin” James Comey, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi, “Little Adam” Schiff, “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren, “Low-IQ Maxine” Waters, and there are many others.

Now that’s Major League snark. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

3 comments on “ETYMOLOGY: SNARKY

  1. Michael Gamer
    April 13, 2020

    So glad you’re still an active editor!

    While I’m in quarantine, I was looking for an old Brockbank motoring cartoon (The Oxford Gate) and encountered your excellent website. It’s great to rediscover your wit and wisdom.


  2. goetzkluge
    June 6, 2020

    “Snarking” (close enough to “Snark”) has been used as onomatopoeia already in 1866, that is at least eight years before Lewis Carroll started to write “The Hunting of the Snark”. See snrk(dot)de/page_etymology-of-snark

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