How to Write Sardonically
Sardonic humor arises from your attitude towards life and people and you can’t fake it. You need to have sardonic perceptions in order to say sardonic things! If you want to try to develop a sardonic style, you may be able to learn by reading and watching sardonic authors and characters and imitating their style. You can start with the classics: Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and P.G. Wodehouse (see section 7). Or watch more BBC television—such as John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock Holmes, or Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder. The British are generally much more sardonic than Americans because understatement has a high value in British culture, whereas American humor tends to be loud, extreme, and obvious.
Along the way, you’ll notice a few things about sardonicism:
- It’s dry. Sardonic lines aren’t over-the-top. They don’t call attention to themselves; they’re more like needles than hammers. This is why sardonicism is more typically British than American.
- It’s short. A sardonic comment shouldn’t be long. The idea of “rapier wit” should be your guide here. Use only as many words as you need, and not one more.
- It’s harsh, but not necessarily mean. While it’s certainly possible to use sardonic comments in a mean-spirited way, they should usually be funnier than they are mean. Close friends in movies often tease each other with sardonic comments for fun.
When to Use Sardonicism
Sardonic characters appear often in popular movies and TV shows. A comedy, for example, can consist mainly of sardonic exchanges between characters. In a more serious story, you can still bring in humor from time to time with a sardonic character.
It may be tempting to use sardonic lines in essays as well, because they are witty and make you sound smart. But this is a mistake; snarky comments in a formal essay don’t make you seem smart. They just make it seem like you’re focusing too much on being witty and not enough on solid arguments and research. It can give the impression that you’re not taking the assignment seriously. Besides, your goal in a paper is not to show how smart you are; it’s to make a good argument about a specific topic. So it’s best to avoid sardonicism in essays for school.