Friday, November 01, 2013

Facetiously Sarcastic

Wendy asked for a comment on the words facetious and sarcastic. My immediate on-air reaction was that something facetious is positive and stands on the lighter side, while something sarcastic is negative and is meant to hurt.

This is borne out by their respective etymologies. Facetious comes from a Latin word that meant witty or humorous. Sarcastic came from a Greek word that meant tearing the flesh from the bone. Ouch!

Synonyms for these words line up the same way. Allied with facetious are raillery, jocular, and frivolous. Raillery is a type of mockery, and it comes from a Latin word that meant to howl or bellow. Jocular indicates a tendency to jest; it came from a Latin word that meant a joke. Frivolous means lacking seriousness, and it came from a Latin word meaning paltry.

Lining up with sarcastic are mordant, acerbic, and sardonic. Mordant means biting, and it comes from a Latin word that meant the same. An acerbic comment is bitter or sharp, and it meant harsh-tasting in Latin. Sardonic means scornful or mocking, and it has a strange origin. It refers to Sardinia, specifically to a eating a Sardinian plant (herba sardonia) which was said to produce facial convulsions resembling horrible laughter. The attack invariably ended in death.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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[Note: I'm working on the 3rd edition of my Word Parts Dictionary, so the entries on this blog may be a bit sporadic for the next three months.]


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