acer·​bic ə-ˈsər-bik How to pronounce acerbic (audio)
: sharply or bitingly critical, sarcastic, or ironic in temper, mood, or tone
acerbic commentary
an acerbic reviewer
acerbically adverb

Did you know?

English speakers created acerbic in the 19th century by adding -ic to the adjective acerb. Acerb had been around since the 17th century, but for most of that time it had been used only to describe foods with a sour taste. (Acerb is still around today, but now it's simply a less common synonym of acerbic.) Acerbic and acerb ultimately come from the Latin adjective acerbus, which can mean "harsh" or "unpleasant." Another English word that comes from acerbus is exacerbate, which means "to make more violent or severe."

Examples of acerbic in a Sentence

Whitney has graced magazine covers for her acerbic and blunt evisceration of the banks she has covered. Several weeks ago, she left her well-paid post at Oppenheimer to start her own economic consultancy, where she will charge many of her employer's clients for her own unambiguous analysis. Zachary Karabell, Newsweek, 9 Mar. 2009
… we probably have no choice but to enjoy Private Lives on its own terms—as a play that exults in its total lack of a public dimension. Coward's acerbic wit, his submerged sensibility, and his clipped semantics actually had a profound influence on the styles of virtually all the English dramatists who followed him … Robert Brustein, New Republic, 10 June 2002
… discovery of self-esteem and New Agey conclusions ("I discovered there was a goddess deep inside me") are something that an acerbic comedian like Cho shouldn't embrace without irony. Publishers Weekly, 7 May 2001
We want to experience how someone as acerbic as Jane Austen, as morally passionate as Dostoyevsky, as psychologically astute as Henry James makes sense of the chaos of this world. Laura Miller, New York Times Book Review, 15 Mar. 1998
the film's most acerbic critics whispered a steady stream of acerbic comments as the lecturer droned on See More
Recent Examples on the Web After establishing themselves as bastions of acerbic British rock with albums like Mclusky Do Dallas, the trio of Falkous, Jonathan Chapple (now replaced by Damien Sayell), and Jack Egglestone parted ways in 2005. Jazz Monroe, Pitchfork, 14 Sep. 2023 Artists and journalists face rising pressure to self-censor or face consequences, said Emad Hajjaj, a Jordanian cartoonist known for his acerbic depictions of his compatriots’ everyday struggles. Aaron Boxerman, New York Times, 2 Sep. 2023 Her sharp depictions of blood-and-guts nursing brimmed with acerbic opinions on topics ranging from the unpopularity of the British consul in Volos to inaccurate reporting by journalists who lacked Greek language skills. Richard Byrne, The New Republic, 25 Aug. 2023 Sibling Sadie, as Stacy’s acerbic older sister Ronnie, is amusing as well, while Lorraine provides solid support as Stacy’s best friend. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 Aug. 2023 Martin Walser, among the last of a generation of acerbic, socially engaged novelists who dominated the German literary scene after World War II, died on July 26 in Überlingen, Germany, a city on Lake Constance, along the Swiss border. Clay Risen, New York Times, 11 Aug. 2023 Hailing from Philly, these sludge punks’ bludgeoning riffs and acerbic commentary on the workaday life are a welcome tonic for these troubled times. Globe Staff,, 24 May 2023 Because for all that The Other Two’s jokes have gotten most of the attention, its acerbic wit has been tempered by an underlying sweetness from the very start. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 29 June 2023 The show featured audience participation, elaborate drag costumes, acerbic historical footnotes, occasional snacks and a 24-piece backing band that would lose one member every hour. Noel Murray, Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'acerbic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


acerb + -ic entry 1

First Known Use

1865, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of acerbic was in 1865


Dictionary Entries Near acerbic

Cite this Entry

“Acerbic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

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