Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A literary work in which human foolishness or vice is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
  • noun The branch of literature constituting such works.
  • noun Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose human foolishness or vice.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A literary composition, originally in verse, characterized by the expression of indignation, scorn, or contemptuous facetiousness, denouncing vice, folly, incapacity, or failure, and holding it up to reprobation or ridicule: a species of literary production cultivated by ancient Roman writers and in modern literature, and directed to the correction of corruption, abuses, or absurdities in religion, politics, law, society, and letters.
  • noun Hence, in general, the use, in either speaking or writing, of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, etc., in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, indecorum, incapacity, or insincerity.
  • noun Vituperation; abuse; backbiting.
  • noun A satirist.
  • noun Synonyms Pasquinade, Invective, etc. See lampoon.
  • noun Irony, Sarcasm, Satire, ridicule. Irony may be of the nature of sarcasm, and sarcasm may possibly take the form of irony; but sarcasm is generally too severe, and therefore too direct, to take an ironical form; both may be means of satire. The essential thing about irony is the contradiction between the literal and the manifest meaning: as, “Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached the ground, encumbers him with help?” (Johnson, To Chesterfield.) “Irony … is the humorous wresting of language from its literal use for the expression of feeling, either happy or painful, but too vehement to be contented with that literal use. … When the thoughtful spirit of Macbeth is distorted by guilt, and as the agony of that guilt grows more and more intense, the pent-up misery either flows forth in a subdued irony or breaks out in that which is fierce and frenzied.” The essential thing about sarcasm is its cutting edge; it therefore is intensely concentrated, lying in a sentence or a phrase; it is used to scourge the follies or foibles or vices of men, but has little of reformatory purpose. Satire is more elaborate than sarcasm, is not necessarily bitter, and has, presumably, some aim at the reformation of that which is satirized. “Well-known instances of ironical argument are Burke's ‘Vindication of Natural Society,’ in which Bolingbroke's arguments against religious institutions are applied to civil society; Whately's ‘Historic Doubts,’ in which Hume's arguments against Christianity are used to prove the non-existence of Napoleon Bonaparte; Swift's ‘Argument against the Abolishment of Christianity,’ and his ‘Modest Proposal’ for relieving Ireland from famine by having the children cooked and eaten.”

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A composition, generally poetical, holding up vice or folly to reprobation; a keen or severe exposure of what in public or private morals deserves rebuke; an invective poem.
  • noun Keeness and severity of remark; caustic exposure to reprobation; trenchant wit; sarcasm.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun uncountable A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. Humour is often used to aid this.
  • noun countable A satirical work.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun witty language used to convey insults or scorn

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Latin satira, probably alteration (influenced by Greek satur, satyr, and saturos, burlesque of a mythical episode) of (lanx) satura, fruit (plate) mixture, from feminine of satur, sated, well-fitted; see sā- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Implied in satiric (attested in 1387), from Latin satira, from earlier satura, from lanx satura ("full dish"), from feminine of satur. Altered in Latin by influence of Ancient Greek σάτυρος (saturos, "satyr"), on the mistaken notion that the form is related to the Greek σατυρικό δράμα (saturiko drama, "satyr drama").

Examples

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  • Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

    February 12, 2010