The Hunting of the Snark

I first heard the word snarky ad nauseum at the Nieman Narrative Conference in 2004. Journalist upon journalist implored the audience to, I don’t know, embrace the snark? Avoid it? Use it in their writing? But it was like the cool thing for journalists exploring the narrative journey – in their black leather jackets and wind-blown hair, their “I get in the trenches to cover everyone else’s pain and I am SO politically correct it kills me” bluster, snarky became a buzzword.

It’s a fun word, to be sure. And not a new one.

Seems snarky has been skipping along since 1906 as a British descriptor. Critical, annoying, sarcastic, wisecracking in a cynical sort of way, influencing the snark is doing something with a kick.

Apparently the modern use of the word has nothing to do with Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark,” though that IS a great title. And of course, its roots are British which I can totally see – ‘to nag, find fault with,” and not far from ‘to snort or snore.’

I’ve learned that most dictionaries label snarky as “chiefly British slang,” but I’m taking issue with it. We New Worlders have our own sense of attitude as all the world knows, and so I think we can effectively claim snarky just as we’ve claimed every other invention, idea, and perspective since landing on these shores and kicking the poor misunderstood Native Americans into the bushes.

I’ll go with this definition:”Snarky describes a witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term. Snark is sometimes mistaken for a snotty or arrogant attitude.”

Poor us. So mistaken, so misunderstood. Hey, I’ll take snark over sweetness any day.


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