late 14c., "work intended to ridicule vice or folly," from Middle French satire (14c.) and directly from Latin satira "satire, poetic medley," earlier satura, in lanx satura "mixed dish, dish filled with various kinds of fruit," literally "full dish," from fem. of satur "sated" (from PIE root *sa- "to satisfy").
First used in the literary sense in Latin in reference to a collection of poems in various meters on a variety of subjects by the late republican Roman poet Ennius. The matter of the little that survives of his verse does not seem to be particularly satiric, but in classical Latin the word came to mean especially a poem which assailed the prevailing vices, one after another. Altered in Latin by influence of Greek satyr, on mistaken notion that the literary form is related to the Greek satyr drama (see satyr). For nuances of usage, see humor (n.).
Satire, n. An obsolete kind of literary composition in which the vices and follies of the author's enemies were expounded with imperfect tenderness. In this country satire never had more than a sickly and uncertain existence, for the soul of it is wit, wherein we are dolefully deficient, the humor that we mistake for it, like all humor, being tolerant and sympathetic. Moreover, although Americans are 'endowed by their Creator' with abundant vice and folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities, wherefore the satirist is popularly regarded as a sour-spirited knave, and his every victim's outcry for codefendants evokes a national assent. [Ambrose Bierce, "Devil's Dictionary," 1911]
Proper satire is distinguished, by the generality of the reflections, from a lampoon which is aimed against a particular person, but they are too frequently confounded. [Johnson] [I]n whatever department of human expression, wherever there is objective truth there is satire [Wyndham Lewis, "Rude Assignment," 1950]
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