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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Sardonicism (from Risus sardonicus, a convulsive laughter) is the expression of derision, cynicism or skeptical humor variously through comment, gesture or writing.

It is scornfully mocking or cynical and disdainfully or ironically humorous.


The etymology of sardonicism as both a word and concept is uncertain. The Byzantine Greek Suda traces its earliest roots to the notion of grinning (sairō) in the face of danger, or curling one's lips back at evil. One explanation for a later morph to its more familiar form and connection to laughter (supported by the Oxford English Dictionary) appears to stem from an ancient belief that ingesting the sardonion plant from Sardinia (Sardō) would result in convulsions resembling laughter and, ultimately, death.

A root form first appears in Homer as the Ancient Greek sardánios, Odysseus, smiling "sardonically" when attacked by one of his wife's erstwhile suitors upon his return to Ithaca.

From the sardónios evolved the sardonius, thence the sardonique, and ultimately the familiar English adjectival form, sardonic.

Hemlock water dropwort

In 2009 scientists at the University of Eastern Piedmont in Italy claimed to have identified hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) as the plant responsible for producing the sardonic grin. This plant is the most-likely candidate for the "sardonic herb," which was a neurotoxic plant used for the ritual killing of elderly people in pre-Roman Sardinia. When these people were unable to support themselves, they were intoxicated with this herb and then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sardonicism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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