Essayist Define Irony

  • Rita

    The fact that very few people on a thread defining irony do not understand its meaning, is terrifically ironic!

  • venqax

    I don’t think that quite makes it. People on a plane singing Lynard Skynard songs to take their minds off the fact that the plane might crash, that would make it, I think.

    Your safe was stolen. That would make it. Someone dies from an allergic reaction to health food or vitamins. The one passenger not wearing a seat belt gets tossed to safety from a burning car wreck.

  • Dave

    OK, so using movie examples: in ConAir when the serial killer looks at Nicholas Cage’s character and says: “Define Irony. A bunch of criminals on a plane singing a song by a band who died in a plane crash.” Is NOT ironic right?

  • clb kundariya

    Irony use of words,the natural meaning of which is just the opposite of what is intended to be expressed. By this figure, therefore ,we say one thing but mean just the opposite.

    E.g. 1. He is Merry as a tombstone.

    2. He left me to the tender mercies of my enemy.

  • Jean Allen

    What is wrong with this statement? It should just jump right off the page and bite. Y’all made my day! I’m sure the author will recognize:
    “I agree with the person who said irony is in the same line as sarcasm, but usually refers to events that happen or should of happened as opposed to linguistical usage.”
    Please, don’t anyone get your sphincter muscle all twisted. I’m just teasing. Imagine my surprise when I, an uneducated high school graduate, caught this among all this wisdom from college-trained professionals !

  • Cate

    This thread had me laughing so hard (I love you guys and all of your opinions)! I think the struggle is that people, and all forms of modern media, have used the word so loosely for so long, that almost everyone is thoroughly confused. Adding to the confusion, people start using the word ironic as if it’s synonymous with words like sarcasm and coincidence, but it’s not. And don’t even get me started on Alanis Morrisette and her brilliant lyrics…yeah, that was a *sarcastic* statement!

    As a long-time English professor and published writer and editor, I have a few thoughts on the topic and hope that they help anyone who is actually here looking for answers, not arguments. Again, these statements are based on the old-fashioned literal and technical English terminology and understanding, not the modern understanding that suits the masses.

    Irony certainly does include the incongruity between the actual result of an event and the expected result, meaning that things turned out differently than expected…BUT the true meaning of irony includes real cause and effect. Otherwise, it is just coincidence. Let’s use Alanis Morisette’s song as our example: If a man wins the lottery and then dies the next day, that is just an unfortunate COINCIDENCE. These two events coincidentally occurred, one right after the other, and led to an unfortunate result: death. Winning the lottery didn’t cause his death, right? It’s not ironic, it’s coincidence.

    Now, if that man played the lottery with the intent of winning and becoming rich and finding true friendship and happiness, and then he actually won the lottery and all of his friends begged and borrowed and made his life miserable…now THAT WOULD BE IRONIC. Winning the lottery was supposed to lead to his ultimate happiness, but the effect was actually nothing but misery. And that is true irony.

    Another part of her song will help clarify even more: rain on your wedding day. Is that irony? No, that is coincidence. It coincidentally rained on your wedding day, because weather can be unpredictable.

    Is having Thanksgiving lunch the day after Thanksgiving ironic? No, it’s just a decision made by the company owner because Thanksgiving day was a holiday and no one was at work. There’s no irony, there’s no cause and effect.

    Is creating a video about how boring and useless Facebook is and then posting it on Facebook ironic? Not at all. There’s no irony, there’s no incongruity between what you EXPECTED TO HAPPEN and what ACTUALLY HAPPENED based on cause and effect.

    If you’re ever curious about what true irony is, just ask yourself if the series of events happened coincidentally, or if something actually CAUSED A DIFFERENT OUTCOME than what was expected.

    Will everyone agree with me on this? Probably not, because the word ironic is used inappropriately by most people and in most professions on a daily basis, and everyone thinks that they know the true meaning. Is that ironic? Nope! Just coincidental!

  • Matt

    Procrastinators’ Meeting.

    I’m assuming there is more than one procrastinator. Also: not ironic.

  • Melissa

    I find it ironic that I come here to receive clarity regarding the use and definition of irony with other people that would seemingly like to do the same and then there are so many people not willing to accept the correct answer. HaHaHa :’)

  • Graham

    Would this class as irony? Your football team gets a penalty. Convinced that your teams regular taker will miss, you take it yourself and miss anyway

  • Paulah May

    irony is the opposite of wrinkly.

  • Mike

    The dictionary has: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

    I think that’s the key, the incongruity. For example:

    A dog-catcher being hit by a truck hauling furniture is not ironic, just unfortunate.

    A dog-catcher being hit by a truck that is taking dogs to a local pet shop is closer to ironic, while also unfortunate.

    It’s the humorous aspect that I think some may not grasp. Irony isn’t simply a matter of misfortune. It is a misfortune that is incongruous, and therefore has a twinge of humor to it. The Far Side comic strip was full of irony, and some people ‘got it,’ while others did not. It’s the whole Coyote/Roadrunner scenario. It’s a bitter-sweet sort of thing.

  • Deborah Johnson

    Legal slavery within a free country is ironic

  • Vid

    Wow… a lot of ‘jibber jabber’ from a lot of brainiacs… the history of irony and and different types of irony… how people don’t understand it… and people trying to explain what it is…

    that last post….

    “I guess sardonically typical works, though it doesn’t flow well implying that it is an undesired outcome, but did not hold previous expectation for the outcome.”


    Use it in a sentence… give us an example… please.

  • Sephor

    After reading all of the comments, I am so confused.

  • Sinvanor

    I think irony has come to mean this.
    “Coincidence or events that happen in correlation to the least desired results or least expected.” (Feel free to change that around anyway you want to make it make more sense. I’m by no means an expert on coming up with concise definitions or indeed explaining what I mean through just words instead of direct examples.)
    Meaning, rain on your wedding day if you wanted it to be sunny or it was supposed to be sunny, would fit in this description.
    The irony implied not needing to be directly opposite or the worst possible thing, but still an undesired outcome.

    There should just be a new term that means that if ironic is technically incorrect that goes in the vein of the term “That figures” used sardonically.

    The one that confused me the most was the paying for a bus that you find out was actually free. That seems like irony, but I would rather know if there is a proper term for that phenomenon.

    I agree with the person who said irony is in the same line as sarcasm, but usually refers to events that happen or should of happened as opposed to linguistical usage.

    Overall I would say irony has to do with expectation vs the opposite or something undesired happening instead.
    It’s usually a negative thing that either infuriates or makes someone think sarcastically how good it is to of happened.
    Someone pointed out that a traffic jam when already late doesn’t work because you did not expect there to be one. There was no expectation that the road would be clear, but it does go into the realm of “it figures” thinking, which I insist needs a term by itself. Because saying “It was so it figures that a traffic jam happened when I was already late.” just doesn’t work. People instead want to use “It was so ironic that a traffic jam happened when I was already late.” mostly because they don’t know what to use.
    I guess sardonically typical works, though it doesn’t flow well implying that it is an undesired outcome, but did not hold previous expectation for the outcome.

    Grrr, if anyone thinks of a good term, let me know. It’s annoying to be using words wrong that way, even if language is evolving and fluid, it sucks when meanings change due to a misunderstanding outright rather then morphing overtime.

  • Donny Ray

    Irony is simply “SARCASTIC HUMOR.” Think about it…the Facebook comment at the top is meant to be funny. This type of stuff is in practically every TVshow we watch…they’re filled with it and we eat it up. Not all Irony is funny to people thus taking the lower % on the “POPULAR SCALE RATIO”…but to be honest if there wasn’t any ever opposed life wouldn’t be as much fun….Ironically irony is why you are…who you are.

  • Spencer Havens

    If irony can be the misuse of a word for something other than its literal meaning, then doesn’t misusing irony make it ironic? I mean if you use the word irony to mean something other then it should, at that point doesn’t the word itself become ironic? So isn’t it difficult to actually misuse the word irony without making a conscious effort to?

  • Rowan

    Okay, I hope someone has mentioned this, but let’s clarify: Expecting one outcome and having the opposite is ironic, but things can also be ironic if they do not fit that definition. There is several types of irony. Verbal, situational, and dramatic. The definition I mentioned regarding the outcome was for situational irony. Verbal irony is meaning the opposite of what you say. This on many occasions can be sarcasm, however, some sarcasm is not verbally ironic. Dramatic irony is (loosely) when the audience knows more than the character. Using some examples I’ve seen here, the Hamlet scene, if the audience knew about his killing the wrong person, would be dramatic irony. It could be situationally ironic, I do not know because I have yet to read Hamlet. Saying the weather is nice, when it is not, is verbal irony because you are meaning that it is the opposite. The puddle example was indeed a coincidence, and had hardly anything to do with expectations, so like many assumed, it was not situational irony. I have heard about another type of irony, however, I do not know enough about it to teach the ignorant commenters. I only intend to point out that people are not realizing there are multiple types of irony, and are defining it by one definition.

  • Kelly Greene

    I came on this site to get a better idea for a way to best articulate the definition of “irony”; and, lol, there are nearly 3 years of explanations. Irony is something I can spot alright (I think), but cannot explain. I read the book of Esther during the feast of Purim and I believe I definitely identified some examples of irony. If anyone reads this blog to the end ever again with hopes of trying to better understand “irony”, then my “labor” is not in vain.
    In the book of Esther, an evil character, Haman, was summoned by the Persian King who wanted advice on how to honor someone who’d saved his life. He said to Haman, “What should be done for the man the king wishes to honor?” Haman, thinking that he, himself, was the “man” that the king wished to honor, advised the king to clothe this honoree with his own kingly robes and parade him through the square on the royal horse. The king approved his suggestion, and ordered him to do all that he described; only it was for another character, Mordecai. This story is wrought with irony. First, Haman was summoned by the king when he was already on his way to see him in order to persuade him that this Mordecai (someone who’d saved the king’s life earlier in this story) be hanged on a gallows that he (Haman) had built especially for this purpose. Why? Because Mordecai refused to bow to him. Also ironic, is that Mordecai was not only the man whom the king wished to honor, but he was also the cousin of Esther, Queen of Persia, whom he raised from her early childhood. In the end, Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

  • Brandon Burt

    As I recall, “What is irony?” became a popular question in the late 1980s and early ’90s. It had something to do with Generation X’s struggle to define itself in spite of commercial marketing demographics and in opposition to Baby Boomers. All at once, the particular and characteristic mode of communication favored by so-called Gen-X’ers was labeled “ironic.”

    Now, those in this cohort did tend to loathe (or fear) earnestness. This fear of abject sincerity may have stemmed from childhoods steeped in emotionally manipulative but well-meaning educational and commercial campaigns. Whatever the reason, an early cynicism developed among this cohort, and its members discovered that the easiest, most risk-free way to communicate with one another was via sarcasm.

    Over a few years, a sort of code was developed for communicating whole sets of competing ideas and philosophies. It was a kind of jargon or slang, but it didn’t fit earlier “teen slang” models, because it was filled with metaphor and relied on a shared set of common experiences that seemed obscure or even threatening to media professionals (who were a bit older, and therefore excluded).

    For the lack of a better term, these media professionals labeled the Gen-X mode of communication as “ironic.” And so, for a few years, anytime anybody would say something Gen-X-ey, they’d laugh about how “ironic” it was. (“Have you read Douglas Coupland’s new novel? It’s so ironic!”) And thus the word “ironic” lost its meaning.

    But then good people stepped in and drew our attention to the fact that “irony” has a specific meaning, going back to Greek theater and philosophy, and that there’s a very specific and restrictive definition of what constitutes it. So we had to start paying attention to what is, and what isn’t, ironic.

    Of course, all this happened long before social media. In fact, the Internet was still in its relative infancy. But still, I think this is why the “What Is Irony” website could continue to fulfill a very valuable service for years to come — at least until the last remaining members of Generation X die off (probably much to the relief of Millenials).

  • Bree

    It’s funny, I mean, IRONIC that there are 10000’s of ironic events that occur every day and yet there’s not 1 simple explanation that can define what ‘ironic’ actually is…
    Describing irony so that it makes complete sense by stating 2 contradicting facts, that don’t actually describe a thing…?

  • Definition of Irony

    Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. It may also be a situation that ends up in quite a different way than what is generally anticipated. In simple words, it is a difference between appearance and reality.

    Types of Irony

    On the grounds of the above definition, we distinguish two basic types of irony: (1) verbal irony, and (2) situational irony. Verbal irony involves what one does not mean. For example, when in response to a foolish idea, we say, “What a great idea!” This is verbal irony. Situational irony occurs when, for instance, a man is chuckling at the misfortune of another, even when the same misfortune is, unbeknownst to him, befalling him.

    Difference Between Dramatic Irony and Situational Irony

    Dramatic irony is frequently employed by writers in their works. In situational irony, both the characters and the audience are fully unaware of the implications of the real situation. In dramatic irony, the characters are oblivious of the situation, but the audience is not. For example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we know well before the characters that they are going to die. In real life circumstances, irony may be comical, bitter, or sometimes unbearably offensive.

    Common Examples of Irony

    Let us analyze some interesting examples of irony from our daily life:

    • I posted a video on YouTube about how boring and useless YouTube is.
    • The name of Britain’s biggest dog was “Tiny.”
    • You laugh at a person who slipped stepping on a banana peel, and the next thing you know, you’ve slipped too.
    • The butter is as soft as a slab of marble.
    • “Oh great! Now you have broken my new camera.”

    Short Examples of Verbal Irony

    1. The doctor is as kind hearted as a wolf.
    2. He took a much-needed vacation, backpacking in the mountains. Unfortunately, he came back dead tired.
    3. His friend’s hand was as soft as a rock.
    4. The desert was as cool as a bed of burning coals.
    5. The student was given ‘excellent’ on getting zero in the exam.
    6. The roasted chicken was as tender as a leather boot.
    7. He was in such a harried state that he drove the entire way at 20 miles per hour.
    8. He enjoyed his job about as much as a root canal.
    9. My friend’s kids get along like cats and dogs.
    10. Their new boss was as civilized as a shark.
    11. The new manager is as friendly as a rattlesnake.
    12. The weather was as balmy as a winter day in Siberia.
    13. A vehicle was parked right in front of the no-parking sign.
    14. The CEO of a big tobacco company said he did not smoke.
    15. The fear of long words is called “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedalio phobia.”

    Irony Examples in Literature

    Example #1: Romeo and Juliet (By William Shakespeare)

    We come across the following lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V:

    “Go ask his name: if he be married.
    My grave is like to be my wedding bed.”

    Juliet commands her nurse to find out who Romeo was, and says if he were married, then her wedding bed would be her grave. It is a verbal irony because the audience knows that she is going to die on her wedding bed.

    Example #2: Julius Caesar (By William Shakespeare)

    Shakespeare employs this verbal irony in Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II:

    CASSIUS: ” ‘Tis true this god did shake.”

    Cassius, despite knowing the mortal flaws of Caesar, calls him “this god”.

    Example #3: Oedipus Rex (By Sophocles)

    In the Greek dramaOedipus Rex, written by Sophocles:

    “Upon the murderer I invoke this curse – whether he is one man and all unknown,
    Or one of many – may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom!”

    The above lines are an illustration of verbal and dramatic irony. It was predicted that a man guilty of killing his father and marrying his own mother brought A curse on the city and its people. In the above-mentioned lines, Oedipus curses the man who is the cause of the curse. He is ignorant of the fact that he himself is that man, and thus he is cursing himself. The audience, on the other hand, knows the situation.

    Example #4: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (By Samuel Coleridge)

    Irony examples are not only found in stage plays, but in poems too. In his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge wrote:

    “Water, water, everywhere,
    And all the boards did shrink;
    Water, water, everywhere,
    Nor any drop to drink.”

    In the above-stated lines, the ship – blown by the south wind – is stranded in the uncharted sea. Ironically, there is water everywhere, but they do not have a single drop of drinkable water.

    Example #5: The Gift of the Magi (By W.H. Auden)

    This is an example of situational irony, in which the wife sells her most prized possession – her hair – to get her husband a Christmas present; and the husband sells his most dear possession – the gold watch – to get his wife a Christmas present. By the end, it is revealed that neither has the utility of the present bought by the other, as both sell their best things to give the other one a gift. Combs, the gift for the wife, is useless because she has sold her hair. The gold watch chain, the gift for the husband, is useless because he has sold the watch to get the combs. The situation becomes ironic for such an incident.

    Example #6: Othello (By William Shakespeare)

    There are many examples of verbal irony, in which the speaker means the opposite of what he says, in Othello by Shakespeare, as given below:

    OTHELLO: “O, thou art wise! ‘Tis certain” (IV.I.87), “Honest Iago . . . ” (V.II.88), (II.III.179) & (I.III.319), “I know, Iago, Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter” (II.III.251-52).

    These few lines tell us how Othello uses irony to talk about Iago.

    IAGO: “My lord, you know I love you.” (III.III.136)

    This shows that Iago only uses this phrase superficially, with quite the opposite meaning.

    Example #7: The Tell-Tale Heart (By Edgar Allan Poe)

    In the short story The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe, there are many instances of irony as given below:

    1. The murderer poses that he is a wise and intelligent person, who takes each step very carefully to kill the victim. However, the way the old’s man eye prompts him to murder the victim is very ironic. He behaves absolutely insanely throughout the story.
    2. Another instance of irony in the same story is that the killer himself confesses his crime without being asked by the police. The police are there just to investigate the shriek some neighbor has reported. However, their delayed stay makes the killer very nervous, and he confesses his crime of murder in their presence. He even tells where he has buried the dead body.

    Function of Irony

    Like all other figures of speech, irony brings about some added meanings to a situation. Ironical statements and situations in literature develop readers’ interest. Irony makes a work of literature more intriguing, and forces the readers to use their imaginations to comprehend the underlying meanings of the texts. Moreover, real life is full of ironical expressions and situations. Therefore, the use of irony brings a work of literature to the life.


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