July 20, 2008

snark v.

t. verb

to find fault with, to nag

At the end of the 19th century, the word
snark — as a verb (more about the noun form later) — carried two meanings, one of which was — and continues to be — to find fault with, to nag.

In her
New York Times OP-ED piece of July 20, 2008, "Ich Bin Ein Jet-Setter," Maureen Dowd makes apt use of snark to describe the tone of a comment posted by an aide to presidential hopeful John McCain on the blog called The Politico. The context concerned candidate Barack Obama's visit to Europe during the last week in July of 2008.

Dowd first describes the political environments in Europe and America:
Even if Obama is treated as a superstar by W.-weary Europeans, some Obama-wary Americans may wonder what he is doing there, when they can't pay for gas, when the dollar is the Euro's chew toy, when Bud[weiser] is going Belgian and when the Chrysler Building has Arab landlords.
Her next paragraph presents the snarky quotation from the ready-to-rile McCain aide:
I don't know that people in Missouri are going to like seeing tens of thousands Europeans screaming for The One," a McCain aide snarked to The Politico.

Snark in a second sense

t. verb

to snore or snort

Earlier in the Nineteenth Century, the Shorter OED tells us, people used snark as a transitive verb to mean snore or snort, no doubt because of its onomatopoetic effects.

noun, nonce

The word converts naturally into a nonce-noun:
I can't sleep! You're driving me nuts — what with that endless nasal droning you punctuate so punctiliously with all manner of gurgles and gaggs, snorts and snarks.—B.J.

The adjectival derivative you read above, snarky, first appeared in the early 20th century, as did a second adjectival form, snarkish, as well as the adverb snarkily and the noun snarkiness — all worthy of use in appropriate settings.

So there's lots of room for invention with the root
"Reginald, you, with your feigned sophistication, your words come scented in overtones snarkish, but the words of your roughneck bodyguard, Buck, they're stark snarky." (Why not add a rhyme?)

The most striking characteristic of conversation with any member of the Hightower family was its edge of keen
But the root word snark did not make its first appearance in English as a raspish verb: rather it arrived — with no little publicity — as a playful noun, more precisely as a "nonsense word invented by Lewis Carroll in The Hunting of the Snark (1876)."

Snark, as a noun, in the Carrollian sense, signifies a "fabulous animal. Also an elusive truth or goal." (Shorter OED).

Finally, here for the sheer nonsense of it, a couplet extempore:

Sir. Gallablab was a snark and windy knight,
His moods and words engendering sleep or fright.


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