What is irony?

Over time many people have argued about what constitutes irony. Additionally, some believe irony is now something different from what it was in the past.

As a result, there are many different types of irony.

Verbal irony

This irony is very close to sarcasm. It is saying one thing, but actually deliberately meaning a very different, even opposite meaning.

Verbal irony has become one of the most confused areas of English. It is different from sarcasm because sarcasm (although it can be funny) is used to belittle others.

Verbal irony can often work between two people who are both saying exactly opposite things to what they mean, both understanding the true meaning, and therefore holding a conversation.

Scenario: Dave has given Paul a doll, with both knowing Paul does not like dolls

Paul: Wow, a doll. Great.
Dave: Yes, I know how much you like dolls.
Paul: And look: it comes with its own hair brush. This is like a dream come true.
Scenario: Opening the curtains on holiday to see another day of dreadful weather

Ah, another beautiful day. The weather here reminds me of my trip to Tahiti.

Irony of fate (*cosmic irony)

This irony is when fate (or gods) are creating situations in which human actions in trying to make things better actually create sadness or the opposite effect.

In an O. Henry story

1. A poor couple decide to give each other gifts.
2. The wife decides to cut her beautiful hair, selling it so she can buy a chain for her husband’s watch.
3. However, when she gives him the gift she finds the husband has sold the watch in order to buy a comb for his wife’s hair.
In Aesop’s fable, ‘The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’

1. A wolf dresses as a sheep in order to be amongst the sheep
2. However, the shephard, happy the wolf has gone, decides he wants to cook a sheep and selects the wolf (dressed as the sheep) and cooks it.

Socratic irony

This irony is used in arguments or competition when:
1. Person A pretends to not understand or lose, allowing Person B to confidently keep going
2. Person B confidently keeps going, giving Person A more and more information until Person A finally has enough information to easily win.

The TV detective show ‘Columbo’ often used Socratic irony.

1. Detective Columbo knows who the killer is, but pretends he is a fool who has no idea
2. The criminal, confident he is getting away with murder, happily talks
3. Eventually the killer says something that Columbo needs to prove the suspect is guilty.
4. Columbo then pretends he is about to leave, before turning and using his famous phrase ‘Oh, just one more thing…’, before showing the criminal is guilty

Comic irony

Comic irony can be done by making a statement that seems to make sense, but as more examples are given to prove it right, it actually becomes obvious that it is totally wrong.

1. Using verbal irony, Man A tells Man B his crumpled shirt looks nice.
2. Man B doesn’t understand that Man A is being ironic. Instead, he answers seriously, saying he disagrees. He thinks his shirt looks crumpled.
3. Man A says Man B doesn’t know the meaning of irony.
4. Man B says he does, and to prove it goes home to iron his shirt.
In the comedy show Blackadder:

1. In WWI, Captain Blackadder does not want to fight the Germans
2. His idiot colleague, Private Baldrick, says he has a ‘cunning plan’.
3. The plan, to pretend to be Italian chefs, is the worst idea Blackadder has ever heard.
4. Blackadder’s own idea fails. However, Baldrick’s terrible idea, which is truly dreadul, works.
In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

1. The opening sentence says that all rich men are looking for a good wife
2. The book then tells a story of rich men, but that shows it is the women who are actually looking for the rich men.

Dramatic irony

This is used in literature and movies. The reader/viewer know something that the character does not, and watch as the character does exactly the opposite of what he/she should be doing.

Dramatic irony usually leads to an end point when the character slowly becomes aware of the truth.

Horror movies:

1. A person trying to escape a killer hides in a closet.
2. The killer is actually in the closet.
North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock

1. The bad guys want to find a man named George Kaplan. However, the audience knows that George Kaplan does not exist.
2. The bad guys think the hero, Roger Thornhill, is actually George Kaplan. They kidnap him.
3. Thornhill escapes and goes looking for the real George Kaplan. He thinks finding the real Kaplan will mean he is out of danger.
4. However, as Thornhill searches for Kaplan, he walks into the story that made the bad guys want Kaplan. This irnoically puts Thornhill into more danger.

Tragic irony

Tragic irony is like dramatic irony, with a character not seeing the mistakes they are making, but with a tragic (disasterous) ending.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

1. Lovers Romeo and Juliet have been separated. However, Juliet has a plan to get them back together.
2. Juliet will pretend to be dead. Romeo will come to the tomb and find her.
3. Juliet takes a drug and everyone thinks she is dead. The audience, however, knows she is not.
4. Juliet has sent a letter to Romeo telling him about the plan. However, Romeo hears that Juliet has died before the letter arrives.
5. Romeo goes to the tomb, sees the ‘dead’ Juliet, and kills himself.
6. Julit wakes up, sees the dead Juliet, and kills herself.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

1. The king, Laius, is told by the Oracle that he will be killed by his own son. Laius orders his wife, Jocasta, to kill the boy.
2. Jocasta cannot kill the boy. Instead she asks a servant to take the boy away. The boy, Oedipus, is then found by shepherds.
3. When Oedipus is older, he too goes to the Oracle. The Oracle tells him he will sleep with his mother and kill his father.
4. Laius decides to go back to the Oracle. He goes in disguise. On the way he meets Oedipus. The two have an argument, and Oedipus kills Laius.
5. A monster, the Sphinx, has been terrorising the city. It can only be destroyed by solving the Sphinx’s riddle. Oedipus solves the riddle. As reward, he is allowed to marry the queen, Jocasta. They have two children.
6. The tragedy concludes: Jocasta learns the truth about what has happened, and kills herself. Oedipus learns the truth, and blinds himself.

The ironic simile

An ironic simile uses a common simile structure, but describes the opposite of what is normally said.

Ironic similes can be taken full circle so they actually describe the right thing, although by using something completely wrong.

This bed is as soft as a block of concrete.This sight was as normal as seeing a seal on a bicycle

* this would be more ironic if done in a place where a seal on a bicycle is a very normal sight
This film is as fun as watching an autopsy.