The Elements of Satire
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And
without sneering teach the rest to sneer; Willing to
wound, and yet afraid to strike, Just hint a fault, and
hesitate dislike; Alike reserv'd to blame, or to
commend, A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend.
Satire should, like a polished razor keen, Wound
with a touch that's scarcely felt or seen.
-Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
What is satire?
• Comes from the latin word satura, meaning “dish
of mixed ingredients”.
• A technique in which a writer ridicules or
criticizes a person, group, institution or event
using certain literary devices.
• Usually witty.
• Almost always sarcastic or ironic.
• Usually has a tone of “mock-approval” –
sarcastically supporting the very thing it is
How does the definition of satire relate to its latin
Forms of Satire
• Drama (Tartuffe – Moliere, The Importance of Being
Earnest- Oscar Wilde)
• Journalism (The Onion)
• Fiction (“A Modest Proposal” – Jonathan Swift, “The
Lowest Animal” & The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
– Mark Twain, )
• Poetry (The Rape of the Locke – Alexander Pope,
various Jonathan Swift poems)
• Graphic Arts (editorial cartoons)
• Television programs (Saturday Night Live, The Chapelle
Show, The Daily Show)
• Music (With God on Our Side – Bob Dylan, Don’t Drink
the Water – Dave Matthews band, Our Town – The
Literary Devices in Satire
• Verbal irony/sarcasm
• Juxtaposition (especially of normal and ridiculous
• Elevated diction/jargon
• Double entendre
• Hyperbolic overstatement/exaggeration
• Contrived diction/ ridiculous examples
Discuss: What is verbal irony?
Example: “These shows feature scintillating shots
of trucks being unloaded, sewing machines
humming along and paint rollers being pushed
up and down walls”.
Discuss: Explain the verbal irony in the previous
quotation. How does it add to the satirical tone of
Discuss: What is euphemism?
Example: “sexually ambiguous young male
Discuss: Explain the euphemism. How does
it add to the satirical tone of the piece?
Discuss: What is parody?
Example: “PIMP MY TAX RETURN!” Teams
of comely accountants trick out your1099
with chrome loopholes”.
Discuss: Explain this example of parody and
discuss how it adds to the satirical quality
of the piece.
Discuss: What is juxtaposition?
Example: ‘“GUESS MY TRANSPLANT!” Each
contestant has a major organ transplant, and
friends and family have to guess which one”.
Discuss: Explain what two things are juxtaposed
and how it adds to the satirical quality of this
Discuss: What is antithesis?
Example: “One would think shows like this would
be as boring as watching paint dry since they
sometimes consist of watching paint dry. But
viewers are enthralled!”
Discuss: Explain this antithesis and discuss how it
adds to the satirical quality of the piece.
Discuss: What is “elevated” diction?
Examples: “begat”, “dictum”, “detritus”.
Discuss: Why does the writer include
elevated diction? How does it add to the
satirical aspect of the piece?
Discuss: Define “double entendre”.
Example: “watching paint dry”
Discuss: Explain the dual meaning of the
phrase and how it contributes to the
satirical tone of the passage.
Discuss: What is hyperbole and exaggeration?
Give your own example.
Example: “ the sort of den to wash away care and
herald the coming of paradise on earth”.
Discuss: What does this hyperbolic statement
allude to and how does it contribute to the
satirical tone of the piece?
Discuss: Typically, what is the purpose of a
comparison or analogy?
Example: “”they transform a once normal if
unremarkable room into the interior design
equivalent of the old Funkadelic concert
Discuss: What is the purpose of this analogy? How
does it add to the satirical tone of the piece?
Contrived diction/ ridiculous examples
Ø Find a made-up word or ridiculous
situation in the article.
Ø “…who descend upon bland suburban rec
rooms, closets and garages while the
owner is away or in a coma.”
Ø What makes this situation “ridiculous”? Are
there any other examples in the article?
Now that you know the elements of satire,
what do you think makes satire effective?
Why do writers use satire instead of
criticizing the person, group or institution
Read the article from The Onion and find
examples of satirical devices. Then, write
a Reading Response responding to the
2005 AP prompt.