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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

To Snark or Not to Snark…


This post is the fifty-first part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.

This post is about communication.

On Being Clever

I enjoy listening to a good comedian and reading the works of humorous writers. Life is too short to waste on misery and a hearty laugh is good for the soul. Some humor is educational, thought-provoking and surprising. Some humor, though, can be hurtful.

Some jokes and comments build people up while others tear them down. I understand motivational theories that support “inspiring” people by offending them (you know, so they’ll remember). But many popular and seemingly intuitive management practices simply don’t work – as evidenced in the book Drive by Daniel Pink. While short-term gains are possible, this sort of motivation poisons long-term productivity. That’s not the worst of it. Cleverness – or rather, feeling that one is being clever – is addictive. Some get a thrill out of combining (real or imagined) advantage and snarkiness to achieve a “zinger”.

What Is The Problem I Am Trying To Solve?

The thrill and associated endorphins are understandably pleasant… for the one being snarky.

"As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy, than to create."
-Spock to McCoy, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

This holds in communications, as well. It is much easier to destroy than create. I am going to take that statement one step further: It is lazier to destroy than create.  Inspiring people while not tearing them down is hard. It is way harder than simply throwing some snarky comment in their general direction. It involves something that cannot be manufactured: your engagement. Sure we can multitask, but can we multi-engage?


Engagement is a singleton.

Engagement requires attention. Web marketing people will tell you web advertisements are after our attention. Our attention can be defined many ways. I define it as “the second glance”. If a web marketer or a spammer produces something that draws our eye back to it, they have our attention.


Snarkiness will get my attention long enough to accomplish your short-term goal, but it does so at the expense of the long-term. If you are snarky to me, I want to listen to you less in the future. You made your point (congratulations), but you did so at the expense of all future points you wish to make with me.

Is that a win for you?


What does that bode for community? How does that fit into the marketing model of the long tail? Putting it into farming terms: Snarkiness is equivalent to eating seeds stored for planting. You are eating today, but you will starve in the future without seeds to plant – which will produce more edible (and planting) seeds.

The Solution

Don’t be snarky. Wil Wheaton (blog | @wilw) puts is succinctly in what has become known as Wheaton’s Law.


Snarkiness may be fun, but it is expensive fun – and the snark foots the bill in terms of influence and reputation. Is it worth it?


Published Monday, February 6, 2012 8:00 AM by andyleonard

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Joe Sack said:

Great post.

Reminds me of the scene from Fight Club where Tyler Durden asks “How’s that working out for you? Being clever?”

I think it’s easy to be snarky, but it’s not at all easy to be vulnerable.  I also think people lose touch with their compassion for others when they indulge in it.  For example – seeing the Twitter feeds during SQL PASS keynotes.    

February 6, 2012 8:15 AM

Jeff Banschbach said:

Love this thread Andy and enjoyed meeting you at MADPASS a couple of weeks ago.  Thanks for all of your contributions to the community.

February 6, 2012 10:02 AM

Holly Smith said:

Great thoughts put to paper...or virtual paper.  I am a HUGE believer in positive reinforcement rather than "building people up by tearing them down".  Thank you!!

February 6, 2012 3:40 PM

Karen Lopez said:

I think snark has a role, when it's not personalized.  Meaning that if I whip a zinger about a corporate that has hugely dropped the ball, say by featuring nekkid women to promote their services, I'm not doing any more damage than by saying "you should not use nekkid women to promote your service because it doesn't appeal to me.

Maybe I damage my reputation by spelling nekkid funny (because that's snarky, too)...pretending to dumb down my thinking just just the commercial does.  But I'd like to thing that people reading my tweet or comment understand the nuance there.

This whole blog post is made of snark. You're remarking about someone(s), but not saying who. "It is way harder than simply throwing some snarky comment in their general direction." Seems that's what this post is. That's meta.

I'm snarky.  I rarely target snarkiness directly at an individual.  If I do, it's mostly in jest and with a friend who can snark right back.

Or perhaps you have a completely different definition of snark?

February 6, 2012 4:13 PM

GrumpyOldDBA said:

It may be different in the UK but I only ever think of "The hunting of the snark"

I agree with you however although sometimes it is very difficult to be positive about something which is so dire it probably should never have existed, in the sense of "why on earth?"

February 7, 2012 7:03 AM

Marty said:

Nice article Andy, point well made.

Dark humour can often be a release valve, we've all made those slightly derisory comments "wtf", "why on earth", "rocks in their heads" type remarks I'm sure. Nothing wrong with that. Usually however there is a very good reason “why”, it’s just not one we might agree with or even have full knowledge of.

In my experience sarcasm, snarking, or to use a phrase where I come from “taking the piss” universally fail to convince the other person(s) to re-assess their position. If you want to effect change then construct a viewpoint, listen and engage…

February 7, 2012 3:46 PM

Ajarn Mark Caldwell said:

Andy I fully agree!  Closely related to this is sarcasm.  I used to take pride in being clever or witty (I thought) and was very sarcastic earlier in my career, especially with friends.  Then somebody pointed out to me that the origins of the word sarcasm come from the Greek for "to tear flesh".  Similarly, the origins of snark is "to annoy".

Someone may get my attention by being snarky or sarcastic, but it is not the type of attention that leads to anything positive long-term.

BTW, I love this series!

February 27, 2012 4:06 PM

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