Sardonic vs. Sarcastic: Meaning, Origin and Examples

Let’s take a look at “Sarcastic” vs. “Sardonic.” These two English words have similar spelling and similar pronunciations. Even though they have these similarities, they have different origins, unique meanings, and particular usages that separate them. 

What Does “Sarcastic” Mean? 

“Sarcastic” is a word that refers to comments that are sharp, mean, taunting, or bitter. Sarcastic remarks are usually ironic and can be comedic. It is important to note that although irony and sarcasm are related, they are not the same! 

Sarcasm usually takes the form of meaning the opposite of what is being said. In other words, the inversion of meaning allows the writer to take a playful jab at something or someone. For instance: 

  • I work 40 hours a week to be this poor! 
  • Don’t worry about repeating yourself; I tried so hard to ignore you the first time. 

As you can see, these sarcastic statements aren’t meant to be taken literally. Instead, they are meant to be poking fun at the writer’s situation. To sum up, when you use “sarcastic” as an adjective, you say that someone/something is pointed, bitter, ironic, or even comedic. 

Origin Of “Sarcastic”

“Sarcastic” can be traced back to the Greek term “sarkasmos,” which means “to sneer.” In other words, the origin refers to something unpleasant caused by someone. According to most sources, “sarcasm” was coined in English in 1579! 

How To Use “Sarcastic” 

Sarcasm can be used in two main ways. First, it can be used directly toward someone to show contempt or disdain. For instance, you could say, “you wouldn’t have been able to find your watch if it bit you on the wrist.” This direct usage directly points the sarcasm at a specific individual in a specific instance. 

In addition, you can also use sarcasm generally and indirectly. In these cases, the statement relies on the speaker’s delivery to make the sarcasm understandable. For example, you could say, “wow, what a great musician you have become,” in a sarcastic tone to tell your friend that they are bad at music. 

What Does “Sardonic” Mean?

Sardonic statements are filled with mockery, scorn, hate, and cynicism. Often, people refer to this type of comedy as “humor in the face of adversity.” It usually draws upon the silver linings of a bad situation for comedic gain. For instance, when someone’s care breaks down and they have to walk home, they may say, “at least I get some good exercise now.” In this case, they aren’t really happy about getting exercise. Instead, they are poking fun at their unfortunate situation. 

Another important thing to note is that sardonic statements can sometimes be paired with feelings of superiority or arrogance. 

Origin Of “Sardonic” 

Sardonic” originated from the Greek term “sardonios,” which means “bitter smiles or laughter.” The Greek word originated from the Sardinian plant, which resulted in death upon ingestion. Morbidly enough, the term originated with this plant because it caused the dying person to have a convulsed smiling expression upon death. 

It can be traced back to the works of Homer, who wrote about Odysseus’ “sardonic smile.” 

How To Use “Sardonic” 

As mentioned, sardonic statements are meant to express cynicism within humor. They poke fun at someone else with sarcasm. Also, humor and irony do participate in sardonic statements, but overall, it has to do with comedy during a negative situation. 


But one of the best examples comes from 1989, when a former civil servant introduced Falco, a chippy, sardonic, harassed investigator, whose adventures begin as Rome tries to recover from the year of the four emperors. – The Guardian

It incorporates videotaped examples of exchanges in which a person’s words seem straightforward enough on paper, but are delivered in a sarcastic style so ridiculously obvious to the able-brained that they seem lifted from a sitcom. – “The Arts of Sarcasm (Not That You Care),” The New York Times


In the end, these two words can be pretty confusing for the average writer to tell apart. In general, sarcastic and sardonic remarks are similar but have different meanings and nuances. 

Sarcasm is usually heavily rooted in irony, while sardonic statements are characterized by being humorous in the face of adversity. 

Related: Sarcasm vs. Facetiosness

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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