General English

  • noun a way of attacking people in speaking or writing by making them seem ridiculous
  • noun a piece of writing which criticises people by making them seem ridiculous

Information & Library Science

  • noun writing which aims to make readers or an audience recognise the foolishness of people, organisations or events in an amusing way

Media Studies

  • noun the use of wit, especially irony, sarcasm and ridicule, to criticise faults


  • The use of ridicule to expose the pretensions, folly, and evilsof human beings and their institutions. The word comes from the Latinsatira, meaning a dish of mixed fruit, probably because thefirst satires were long verses containing a mixture of literary styles.Satire has been employed by dramatists since it was first used onthe stage by Aristophanes, who drew upon it to attack hiscountry's political and military leaders, as well as fellow playwrights.Some scholars have suggested that masks were worn in the ancient Greektheater so that actors could remain anonymous while delivering theirsatirical lines.

    Satire was also prominent in the mystery play ofthe Middle Ages. John Skelton's morality play Magnyfycencewas an early 16th-century satire condemning Church abuses. Romanticlove was a favourite target of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans. Bythe late 16th century, satire had become an essential part of Europeancomedy: it has been estimated that three-quarters of the plays producedin London between 1599 and 1613 were satires. Ben Jonsonwas the chief satirist of the Jacobean period.

    In Restoration England the men and women of society were satirizedin the comedy of manners of Congreve and others, while inFrance, Molière's clever use of satire drew attentionto such vices as greed, snobbery, and religious hypocrisy. In 18th-centuryEngland satire became increasingly political; John Gay's The Beggar'sOpera (1728) was so pointed and successful in its attacks onthe government of Robert Walpole that strict controls were imposedon drama. Although the 19th century saw a reaction against satire,20th century writers have used the theater to expose and attack social,political, and economic ills. Two of the greatest satirists of themodern era have been George Bernard Shaw, who attacked conventionalattitudes to a wide variety of subjects, ranging from prostitutionto war, and Bertolt Brecht, who ridiculed military valourin Man is Man (1926).

Origin & History of “satire”

A satire is etymologically a ‘verse medley’, an ‘assortment of pieces on various subjects’. The word comes via Old French satire from Latin satira ‘mixture’, an alteration of an earlier satura. this is said to have been derived from satus ‘full’ (a relative of satis ‘enough’, source of English satisfy), and the link in the semantic chain from ‘full’ to ‘mixture’ is ‘plateful of assorted fruit’, the earliest recorded meaning of satura. By classical times, Latin satira had moved on from being a general literary miscellany to its now familiar role as a ‘literary work ridiculing or denouncing people’s follies or vices’. The word has no etymological connection, incidentally, with satyr ‘Greek woodland god’ (14th c.), which comes ultimately from Greek sáturos, a word of unknown origin.