My post on snarky elicited many comments from British people, the tenor of which can be gleaned from the first two posted:
Jan: That’s bizarre. The word I and all the British people of my acquaintance use is “sarky”, which I’ve always assumed was taken from “sarcastic”, seeing as being sarky so often involves being sarcastic. Sticking an “n” in there makes absolutely no sense at all. Maybe sarky is some kind of backformation.
Cameron: I think there were originally two distinct usages of snark/snarky. The British usage meant “nasty, irritable, unfriendly” and is reflected nicely in the 1913 text cited in the post. The other usage was (I think) originally from Australia/New Zealand and in that sense snarky was a portmanteau word combining nasty and sarcastic. I suspect the increasing usage of snarky in both Britain and North America is the originally antipodean usage becoming part of standard English.
Poking around on Google Books, I also found this:
”There’s no need to be snarky,” said Sally clearly. “What’d you say?” Daphne stopped looking bored and stood up straight. “I said you didn’t have to be snarky. I’m not a kid.” “Are you not?” said Daphne, trying to imitate Sally’s accent.
The quote is from the 1973 novel No Place for Love, by Joan Lingard. Ms. Lingard writes on her website: “I was born in Edinburgh, in the very heart of its old town, the Royal Mile, but when I was two years’ old I went to live in Belfast and stayed there until I was 18. It was there that I grew up, went to school, made my first friends, learned to read and write. Inevitably, then, Belfast and Northern Ireland have had a strong influence on my writing.”
In Captain Cat (1960), Robert Holles writes, “My mother was snarky that day because my father had gone off early in a coach to some place about two hundred miles away, for a pigeon race.” (According to Wikipedia, Holles [1926-1999] “was the son of a sergeant major, and enlisted in the British army as a boy soldier at 14. He served in Korea as a sergeant with the 1st battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, and saw action during the Battle of Imjin in 1951, one of ‘The Glorious Glosters’ greatest battle honours.”)
Finally, in Games of Chance (1965), by the British novelist Thomas Hinde, one can read, “‘No need to get snarky,’ I heard him say. ‘Just stop asking,’ I shouted. ‘Stop, d’you hear. Stop.’”
Now for sarky. First, I can confirm that the word has not reached the U.S. The OED defines it as “sarcastic” and notes, “Widely used amongst schoolchildren.” The first citation is from a 1912 letter in which D.H. Lawrence asks his correspondent, “Why are you so sarky?” Then, in 1924, Hugh de Sélincourt (an English author) wrote in Cricket Match, “He says it sarky-like and sneering.”
Giving some credence to Cameron’s antipodean theory, and suggesting that even by the ’30s, the term wasn’t universally familiar, is a quote (not cited by the OED) from The Jasmine Farm (1934), by Elizabeth von Arnim, an Australian-born British novelist: “‘Don’t be sarky,’ she at once cut him short. ‘Sarky?’ was all that, pulled up in his stride, he could find to say. ‘Sarcastic. Thinking you’re more than a match for me, when I shouldn’t be surprised if it was the other way about.’”
(Query to readers: is “the other way about” a Britishism, an Australianism, or merely an archaicism?)
My feeling is that, as Cameron says, the original, British meaning of snarky was “nasty, irritable, unfriendly.” I am also with him on the idea, in that its current use, on both sides of the Atlantic and in antipodean regions as well, it is a portmanteau–combining not only nasty and sarcastic, but snide for good measure. The first use of this connotation I have been able to find is still the 1970 Billboard review quoted in the original post.
I await your comments.