Can Snark Be Useful?

We’re moving! I’ll be back with fresh words next week.

On Friday, we’re moving to a new house, so I don’t have any intent to post anything new this week. (Some of you know this already, so I’m sorry to be repeating myself.) I might (depends on how overwhelmed I’m feeling) feature a couple favorite posts on Wednesday and Friday, but otherwise, I won’t be around the Internet much.

That being said, I have an idea for a post that’s been niggling at me for a long time now, and I’m feeling like next week might be the time to write it, but I’d like to pick your brains about it first. Here’s a quick quote from Roger S. Gil in this article on lifehacker (which you should totally read), regarding snark/sarcasm/contempt:

Snark/sarcasm/contempt is always an indicator that something else is going on in a given situation. When it’s appropriate, it tells people that you’re not going to let others push you around. When it’s inappropriate it shows that you feel the need to make yourself “bigger” than others. That need to put one’s self above others can be a symptom of depression or some personality disorders (of course, there would have to be other symptoms present to justify a diagnosis). That being said, perpetually putting others down can be indicative of insecurity, narcissism, negative thought patterns, or jealousy. If those things are present, then you definitely want to address it because it’s likely to affect your relationships negatively.

Do you agree or disagree with the quote above? In what type of situations are snark/sarcasm/contempt your “instinct” reaction? Is it possible to have a productive dialogue when snark/sarcasm/contempt is being employed by the involved parties? Why is it sometimes difficult for us to speak sincerely? Do you think that, culturally, sincerity is perceived as weakness?

I appreciate your taking the time to help me out a little bit, and I really look forward to finally fleshing this thing out. The idea has been brewing for the better part of a year now, and I’m eager to hear what you guys have to say.



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  1. I’m tryung to think of examples when Jesus may have used sarcasm, and the one that comes to mind is the “you who are without sin cast the first stone” comment. That would be an instance of effective sarcasm I think. Maybe there are more?

  2. I think I get what this guy is saying and how a lot of snark/sarcasm is generally negative. I usually use it for humor and to diffuse tense situations. So in that case I think it could be useful. To answer your question about productive dialogue…I think no, not really. Very difficult to have a conversation with someone who is essentially speaking another language. I would agree that in many situations our culture views sincerity as weakness or vulnerability. In my experience a lot of people simply don’t know how to respond to sincerity, so they avoid it all together. Good luck with your move!!

  3. Laney

     /  July 23, 2012

    Ha! Something I totally have an opinion on.

    Let me first start by thanking you for including “snark” along with sarcasm. Often I feel sarcasm indicates that the actual words used are opposite of the speaker’s intentions, but I can be very snarky (and sarcastic) in my tone while speaking words that are 100% true.

    I think Monsieur Gil is right, in some circumstances. And it is clear that he is right, in the sense that sarcasm always comes off this way to him. But I think that communication has everything to do with your audience, and the accepted norms of intention.

    My friends and I are snarky in almost all of our casual interactions. Of course there are times when the moments get heartfelt and true; but when we are just hanging out, snark reigns supreme. It is the general basis of our humor. We use it to joke about the circumstances, each other, and even joke about how we joke (meta-snark!). We find (and this is just us) that we know each other so well, that our true reactions and feelings about a given context are pretty much understood. To discuss them would be redundant. So instead, we entertain ourselves in a battle of wits. Who can turn the most clever phrase to the entertainment of the crowd?

    Now, not everyone is like this, and I appreciate that. Certainly people can use sarcasm and snark to communicate contempt. But they can be used without contempt. If we look at Gil’s comments as a reflection on contempt alone, they carry the exact same meaning.

    Snark, contempt, and sarcasm are not synonymous. When snark and sarcasm are utilized with love and appreciation – with a keen eye on the context of your audience – they accomplish something else entirely.

  4. Two further possible reasons for sarcasm.
    1. Culture – in some places, people are just more (in general) sarcastic than other places
    2. Humour – sarcasm can be a form of humour, more commonly refered in this case as irony…. 😉

  5. Two things come to mind. 1. I am typically a quiet/introverted type person. When I use sarcasm its usually a defense mechanism OR i am trying to fit in/seem funny. 2. I heard once that sarcasm is a socially acceptable form of bullying and it made sense to me at the time but now I think that may be a little harsh.
    Those are my initial thoughts and after i get a chance to read those articles I might have more to say 🙂
    good luck mj!

  6. Carisa

     /  July 23, 2012

    I agree with Gil entirely. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

    I believe there is always truth behind the snark/sarcasm/contempt. Either you truly think those things about a person, or you’re just trying to hurt them. And if you’re snarky about a situation, you’re either miserable or a miserable person.

  7. Always the right tool for the job. There’s such a range of rhetorical options for any situation, and learning which one fits can be tricky.

    There is a whole continuum here – from featherweight irony to bitter, wrenching sarcasm. It’s impossible to nail down one place where it suddenly becomes too much, without a specific situation; the same dark tone I might use to express to my wife my despair at the trainwreck a friend’s life has become would be wholly inappropriate when teasing my daughter.

    The Lord was no slouch at using the sarcastic spectrum, by the way. His uses were always appropriate, natch – but “generation of vipers” and many other examples illustrate that He did not pull punches when they were warranted. The difference? He was perfectly able to discern the hearts and minds of those before Him. There are much lighter examples, even touching ones: “She is not dead, but sleepeth” is one such.

    The lifehacker article seems to be focusing on only the anger-driven use of these broad techniques, and I think the points made are absolutely correct in that context. The fix, however, is correctly identified as an underlying change of heart, rather than just rhetorical stance. Sincere expression of anger can often be more damaging without snark softening the edge.

    The real change needs to be one of attitude toward others. Contempt, anger and frustration will almost always get through even the calmest demeanor. Likewise, genuine affection shines through witty repartée between spouses and dear friends.

    From experience, though, I’ll say that depending too much on sarcasm or irony can get you into unintended trouble. There are whole ranges of people who are not well-wired to handle secondary meanings. As RFC 1855 on internet communications mentions, sarcasm may not travel well. Inadvertent offense becomes a great opportunity to practice the art of sincere apology. 🙂

    As for sincerity – I think we avoid it so much because it is very strong stuff.

  8. Again, I just want to say how much I appreciate your approach to issues. The issue of the appropriateness or inappropriateness of sarcasm or ‘snark’ is one that I think needs more attention among Christians. Roger S. Gil’s quote strikes a chord in me. Having been diagnosed with a personality disorder (which can go hand in hand with depression and low self esteem) I can certainly nod in agreement with him that snark and sarcasm is a shield I’ve often hidden behind to mask my own failings. Subtly cutting others down was a sad attempt to puff myself up…my husband and I used this tactic against each other during arguements, neither of us willing to concede. I think as a Christian, we have so many reminders in God’s Word how very IMPORTANT and LIFE CHANGING a humble heart is and that watching what we SAY is the pathway to wisdom.

    All that to say, the Lord is really putting His finger on me about pride and arrogance in my marriage. All this time I thought it was my husband who needed the healthy dose of humility. Turns out, I’m even more in need. I am learning that a straightforward and humble apology, dispensing with any clever jabs aimed at proving a point go SOO much further than trying to be RIGHT. Sarcasm and snark are almost always the prickly exterior to a haughty and prideful heart. Oftentimes dropping the attitude and just apologizing feels nigh on impossible. Like there is NO WAY you will be able to swallow that huge wad of pride lol. So yeah….sincerity can be well….a real hurdle in a case like this. Like after I lambaste my husband with so much ugliness because I KNOW I’m right and he DESERVED my sarcasm, blah, blah, blah….well at the time, I would rather freaking DIE than be real and admit my stupidity. This verse, is VERY telling: “The tongue has the power of Life and Death, and those who indulge it must eat of its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21 It means no matter WHAT snarky, crappy things you say, eventually, you WILL have to own it, whether you want to or not. It could mean your ,loved one won’t trust you for a long time. It may mean your child over hears you say them and carries them with them into adulthood, forming a warped sense of what is right. THOSE ARE YOUR WORDS and they are NOW OUT THERE. One way or another, you will have to answer for them.

    Finally, I think snark can be ok but NEVER if the intent is to wound or to humiliate. NEVER to belittle another. For the most part, I agree with Gil’s words.

  9. Cerena

     /  July 25, 2012

    There is room for good natured sarcasm but I have experienced the “sarcastic bully” and no matter how funny they try to make their words, they still hurt. They are the hardest to convince that they are truly hurting someone because they are always “just joking”.

    A lot of the people I know are super sarcastic and love being funny but we draw the line when someone has been offended. I think it is most important to be straight with people and if they don’t seem to trust you or they have trust issues you should always be careful of your words.

    It’s all about love and the complicated intricacies of each relationship. There are some people I can be sarcastic with and some people I can’t.

    I loved reading the post and the reply posts. So much inspiration on here. I love it!

  10. My husband’s family uses Snark as a way of communicating a majority of the time. When we got married 13 years ago I felt attacked, unliked, unsure of myself, self concious, and belittled. In recent years I have realized they use it as a defense mechanism to keep one another at arms length so they can’t be hurt by one another. “If I can keep you emotionally 2 ft away, I can protect myself from ever truely being hurt by you.” But personality wise and comfort wise I am not by nature a snarky person, nor was I raised in a snarky family. If they said a cutting remark it was meant to be cutting on purpose. My husband at first didn’t see my point but has come to realize the damage that style of communication has on his interaction with his family. So we have just refused to “play the game.” If they are snarky we respond as though we didn’t hear the comment or we say something to the effect of “that was rude.” It gets an odd look and then they stop being so snarky. It generally is a much quietier visit, but it’s a start.

    On the other hand, my best friend and I do snark. She is someone God placed in my life to bring me out of my shell and I remind her that honey is better than vinegar and soften her edges. (Her words not mine) She is a Godly woman and I cherish her dearly, but she is a born leader and I am a born follower and we encourage one another to switch places sometimes for our girls night out. So I get to be snarky and tell her how it is and she snarks back, she can’t help it! But we both keep it light and fun and it is never personal or mean. More things along the line of “You know you think I’m way better at picking movies, but I won’t make you say it out loud cause that would be embarrasing!” And she will laugh and say “whatever makes you sleep better tonight!” So I think it that instants Snark has helped me to see that saying things that “sound mean” don’t always have to be mean. I had a hard time telling people no, I hated letting people down, etc…but being able to tell her “No, I didn’t want to see her crappy movie choice this week, it was my choice.” And knowing she wasn’t going to get her feelings hurt made me realize I could say No to other people and it wouldn’t hurt their feelings either. Now granted I don’t add the other parts..that’s just fun for us cause she’s helping me be more expressive and silly..but saying No is ok. So snark is good and bad..

  11. Tom S.

     /  July 26, 2012

    “Ellie has hidden the Roku remote. I feel like I’ve looked everywhere. Where would YOUR kid have put it?”

    Obviously, you should have asked her when she told you she hid it, or retrieved it when you saw her hide it.

    Or are you becoming THAT mom?

    Hugs and Lots of Snark
    Tom S.

    P.S. Betting it’s sealed up in one of the moving boxes.

  12. Growing up, my family never used sarcasm or snark. When I met my husband it was his favorite way of joking around so I gradually picked it up. But when I really think about it, I don’t think it’s a very kind/loving/nice way of expressing oneself. Especially when so often it can be used to belittle others – a roundabout way of saying they are stupid. If a method of expression has a fine line between joke and mean, then should we as Christian choose to walk that line or just stay away from it. You know?

  13. I was taught that sarcasm is NEVER the thing to do, but I don’t think I agree. It can be useful to keep others at bay, i.e. if I’m out alone and receive inappropriate attention (like the quote said, it shows I don’t put up with stuff).

    I do snark with my soul-friends, but that’s it. Not with “regular” friends, or my blood-family. I do with my husband, but I’ve cut back on it and am trying to cut it out entirely, because I don’t think it’s entirely kind or healthy in that sort of relationship. I am never snarky or sarcastic with someone who doesn’t know me well, like church acquaintances or friends-of-friends.

  14. Rebecca

     /  August 2, 2012

    Sarcasm and snark sting because they are a form of criticism, and often an intelligent and effective form of criticism at that; they make what the initial speaker is saying sound ridiculous. Furthermore, they act in opposition to sincerity–the harshest sarcasm makes the sincere speaker seem naive and vulnerable in comparison.

    As such, sarcasm and snark initially seem to be negative things–because criticism seems (and often feels) hurtful to its target, and sincerity is something our culture esteems. However, the sincerest opinions are often those most in need of criticism. Sarcasm makes way for subtle and trenchant criticism. There is always an underlying disagreement at the root of snark. Rather than blatant aggression or confrontation, sarcasm and snark allow a somewhat more gentle, thought-provoking, or humorous way by which to critique (faulty) views that are expressed sincerely. And even the opposition between the sincere opinion and the sarcastic opinion is sort of a false one–I would guess that beneath the veil of the sarcastic opinion is a view just as sincere as its “sincere” counterpart. Think of the best 18th century essayists–Jonathan Swift in “A Modest Proposal” for instance–this is the upper limit of sarcasm, critique at its best. As others have noted, basically it’s a form of irony, and irony is a great way to make a powerful and nuanced argument.

    Contempt, while it can accompany sarcasm or snark, seems to be in a whole different field to me–there’s definitely some hatred involved there, and little use to it.

  15. Jonna

     /  May 1, 2013

    I love these sort of thoughts to chew on, because they make me look inside myself, rather than responding right away.
    Yesterday might be the closest example of how I fit in with this question: Usually my sister-in-law and I are quick to tell each other everything and despite my dislike for gossip, I would always give a snarky reply to the things people are doing with their lives.
    That is, until yesterday, when I had nothing left to say about myself in the conversation and it began to drift towards other people’s lives. My husband was sleeping, so I was talking quieter than I usually do (loud mouth over here) and it calmed me down to the point where I just felt exhausted from the topic….like, I just didn’t care to be sarcastic or make rude comments on how people conduct themselves or the choices they make.
    It was almost a relief to be so unconcerned. Because I think maybe my reservoir of snark comes form thinking I have the best opinion, or the right answer….and I really need to step off my high horse and just listen without saying anything. To not share the opinion that I think everyone needs to hear…because I don’t want to be that pompous person with that sort of attitude. I want to soften my instincts…to train myself to be better than that.

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