Irony – how to understand it

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Irony – definition

irony Irony is saying (or writing) one thing, whilst meaning the opposite.

redbtn The true meaning may be conveyed by vocabulary – or even by tone.


“So you’ve lost the keys. That’s clever!”

“You’re standing on my foot – thankyou!”


redbtn Irony is a means of making a critical comment by casting a topic into a new light or reversing a perspective on it.

redbtn It is often used to make witty observations.

redbtn People using irony are distancing themselves from the subject in question.

redbtn NB! Irony should not be confused with sarcasm, which is a direct remark meant to wound or offend.

redbtn There are various types of irony. They have in common the adoption of a distance from the subject for satirical or critical effect.

redbtn A speaker might take up an opponent’s argument and then exaggerate it to reveal its weaknesses. This is Socratic irony.

redbtn Writers or speakers might pretend to hold opinions which are the exact opposite of what they truly believe. [The reader or listener must be alert and skillful to avoid being drawn into a trap.]

redbtn Dramatic irony occurs when the audience at a play know something of which the characters on stage are ignorant [the lover hidden in the next room].

redbtn Irony is often classed as a form of humour, along with sarcasm and satire. These do not necessarily evoke laughter, but rather a wry shrug or assent to the idea that the received world picture has been disturbed.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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