Irony: Broadest class of figures of thought that depend on presenting a deliberate contrast between two levels of meaning; the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what



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Irony: Broadest class of figures of thought that depend on presenting a deliberate contrast between two levels of meaning; the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, or what is meant or said and what others understand. Sometimes irony is classified into types:

  • in situational irony, expectations aroused by a situation are reversed; when something happens that is the opposite of what was expected; or what seems appropriate. Strictly speaking, to be ironic, and outcome must be not only contrary to expectation, but perversely and strangely appropriate.



  • in dramatic irony (aka tragic irony), the audience knows more than the characters in the play, so that words and action have additional meaning for the audience.



  • verbal irony: trope (shift in meaning); saying one thing, but meaning something else.


Other types of irony include:

    • cosmic irony or the irony of fate, misfortune is the result of fate, chance, or God. Cosmic irony feeds on the notion that people cannot see the effects of their actions, and sometimes the outcome of a person’s actions may be out of their control.

    • structural irony – pervasive irony created by a structural feature such as a naïve protagonist whose viewpoint is consistently wrong, shared by neither author nor reader

    • Socratic irony is named after Socrates' teaching method, whereby he assumes ignorance and openness to opposing points of view which turn out to be (he shows them to be) foolish.

Irony is often confused with sarcasm and satire:

  • Sarcasm is one kind of verbal irony; it is seeming praise which is really an insult; sarcasm generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down, e.g., "This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college."

  • Satire is the exposure of the vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. Satirists frequently use irony.

State whether the following are examples of irony; if so, identify what type; if not, explain why not



  1. The name of Britain’s biggest dog (until it died recently) was Tiny.



  1. In a school lottery, the “pocket rocket” motorcycle is won by a shy, demure nun.



  1. After successfully going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, the stunt man goes home, takes a shower, slips on the soap, and breaks his leg.



  1. A man staring out a window looking at a miserably muddy rainy day, remarks, “Lovely day for a stroll.”



  1. In Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged state and he thinks she is dead. He kills himself. When Juliet wakes up, she finds Romeo dead and kills herself.



  1. A supervisor laughed at a coworker who was not familiar with the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. He said to the coworker, “How can you not know what the Sixteenth Chapel is?”



  1. A traffic cop gets his license suspended for unpaid parking tickets.



  1. The Titanic was promoted as being unsinkable; but, in 1912 the ship sank on its maiden voyage.



  1. A child asks his parents how the presents got under the Christmas tree to which the parents reply that they have no idea.



  1. A beautiful actress walks by a table of talent agents as one says, “There goes a good time that was had by all.”



  1. It rains right after you wash your car.



  1. You tell someone, “I love what you’re wearing” when you actually think it looks awful.



  1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen).



  1. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio’s hopes of a splendid future derive from a letter which the audience knows to be faked.



  1. from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic... don't you think

It's like rain on your wedding day


It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought... it figure

  1. From Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (1884).

Note: Huckleberry Finn is a young American, whose father is a vagrant and who is to some extent brought up by the widow Douglas, with some help from Miss Watson.

Then Miss Watson she took me to the closet and prayed, but nothing came of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way.


I set down, one time, back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuff-box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was ‘spiritual gifts’. This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant – I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself. This was including Miss Watson, as I took it. I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn't see no advantage about it – except for the other people – so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but just let it go. Sometimes the widow would take me on one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body’s mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again. I judged that I could see that there were two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow’s Providence, but if Miss Watson’s got him there warn’t no help for him any more. I though it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow’s, if he wanted me, though I couldn’t make out how he was a-going to be any better off than what he was before, seeing I was so ignorant and so kind of low-down and ornery.

Mellen Page




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