Difference between Sarcastic and Sardonic

Sarcastic and sardonic expressions are both scornful devices with emotional undertones. In this article, we will see what the differences between them are.


Sarcastic vs Sardonic
A sarcastic logo of fictional National Sarcasm Society

Sarcastic expressions have derogatory content; they aim to hurt or to insult the person they are directed or referred to.

Sarcasm utilizes a variety of rhetorical instruments, such as irony, mockery, all used in a blunt, direct, and concise way.

For example, sarcasm often utilizes false praise in order to accentuate the discrepancy between what is expressed and what is meant. Consider the following example of sarcastic expression: “You seem to have preserved your brain in excellent condition, because you never use it.” While in the first part of the expression, there is praise “excellent condition”, in the second part there is a commentary added, that makes the first part a mockery, together having an insulting effect on a receiver of this message, implying that he is stupid.

Originating in Ancient Greek, “sarcastic” translates to English roughly as “tearing flesh,” which suggests its hurtful manner. In the human brain, the areas which are responsible for signaling physically painful experience are active when we are emotionally hurt, rejected, or subject to derision.

A pseudo-advertising mocking poster on the popular medication Prozac

The term Sardonic is thought to have originated in the name of a plant found in Sardinia, Italy which is lethal for humans if eaten, with accompanying convulsions in the face muscles, in the end resembling a sort of distorted grin.

In Homer’s writings, sardonic is found in its modern meaning. The famous Ancient Greek bard used to describe instances of scornful laughter as “sardonic.”

Sarcastic vs Sardonic

What is the difference between sarcastic and sardonic?

Sarcastic expressions are predominantly conveyed in the form of words, even if they are accompanied by a number of other means, including facial expressions, gestures, and changes in tone of voice to emphasize their meaning. Sardonic expressions, on the other hand, can be applied to a variety of means. Apart from verbal sardonic expressions, there can be “a sardonic face,” “sardonic laughter,” “sardonic smile,” etc.

While sarcastic expressions are aiming to hurt someone else, sardonic expressions can be directed to the speaker himself. Consider the following example: Someone knows he cooks terribly. If his friend says to him: “Seems like you always have a lot of food left, since nobody can eat it.” This will constitute ¬†sarcasm. If the cook says, “Seems like my food is too tasty for anybody to appreciate it; it is always left over.” This would constitute a sardonic expression.

Sarcastic expressions are direct and blunt; they do not require much criticism or wit but are concentrated expressions of insult. Sardonic expressions, on the other hand, are often made after some analysis has been made, which resulted in a bitter output. As such, they are often of cynical nature. Many suicide notes include some sort of a sardonic expression.

Comparison chart

Sarcastic Sardonic
Is a verbal expression Can be applied to facial expression, as well as verbal
Is normally aimed at the other party Can be directed at the speaker himself
Is not always cynical More often utilizes cynicism