Irony: Wikis

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Irony (from the Ancient Greek εἰρωνεία eirōneía, meaning hypocrisy, deception, or feigned ignorance) is a situation, literary technique, or rhetorical device, in which there is an incongruity, discordance, or unintended connection with truth, that goes strikingly beyond the most simple and evident meaning of words or actions. Verbal and situational irony is often intentionally used as emphasis in an assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, or the irony of sarcasm or litotes may involve the emphasis of one's meaning by deliberate use of language that states the direct opposite of the truth, or which drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

In fictional dramatic irony, the artist causes a character, acting as a mouthpiece, to speak or act in a way which is intentionally contrary to the truth; this again is a method of highlighting the literal facts by giving the example of a fictional persona who is strikingly ignorant of them.

In certain kinds of situational or historical irony, which occur outside works of fiction, a certain factual truth is highlighted by some person's complete ignorance of it, or belief in the opposite of it—however, this contrast does not occur by human design. In some religious contexts, such situations have been seen as the deliberate work of divine providence to emphasize facts, and taunt or toy with humans for not being aware of them in situations where they could easily have been enlightened (this is similar to human use of irony). Such ironies are often more evident, or more striking, when viewed retrospectively in the light of later developments which make the truth of past situations obvious to all.

Almost all irony involves commentary which heightens the tension naturally involved in regarding the state and fate of a person (in the present, or the past) who badly needs to know a given fact which he or she could easily know, but which he or she does not.

Contents

Definitions

Henry Watson Fowler, in The King's English, says “any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same."

The word 'ironic' is sometimes used as a synonym for incongruous in situations where there is no “double audience”, and no contradiction between the ostensible and true meaning of the words. An example of such usage:

Ironically, Sir Arthur Sullivan is remembered for the comic operas he found embarrassing, rather than the serious works he hoped would be his legacy.

The American Heritage Dictionary's secondary meaning for irony: “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.”[1] This sense, however, is not synonymous with "incongruous" but merely a definition of dramatic or situational irony. The majority of American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel found it unacceptable to use the word ironic to describe mere unfortunate coincidences or surprising disappointments that “suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly.”[2]

Types of irony

Modern theories of rhetoric distinguish among verbal, dramatic and situational irony.

  • Verbal irony is a disparity of expression and intention: when a speaker says one thing but means another, or when a literal meaning is contrary to its intended effect. An acute example of this would be sarcasm.
  • Dramatic irony is a disparity of expression and awareness: when words and actions possess a significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not.
  • Situational irony is the disparity of intention and result: when the result of an action is contrary to the desired or expected effect. Likewise, cosmic irony is disparity between human desires and the harsh realities of the outside world (or the whims of the gods). By some definitions, situational irony and cosmic irony are not irony at all.
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Verbal irony

Verbal irony is distinguished from situational irony and dramatic irony in that it is produced intentionally by speakers. For instance, if a man exclaims, “I’m not upset!” but reveals an upset emotional state through his voice while truly trying to claim he's not upset, it would not be verbal irony by virtue of its verbal manifestation (it would, however, be situational irony). But if the same speaker said the same words and intended to communicate that he was upset by claiming he was not, the utterance would be verbal irony. This distinction illustrates an important aspect of verbal irony - speakers communicate implied propositions that are intentionally contradictory to the propositions contained in the words themselves. There are, however, examples of verbal irony that do not rely on saying the opposite of what one means, and there are cases where all the traditional criteria of irony exist and the utterance is not ironic.

Ironic similes are a form of verbal irony where a speaker intends to communicate the opposite of what he or she means. For instance, the following explicit similes begin with the deceptive formation of a statement that means P but which eventually conveys the meaning not P:

  • as beautiful as your face
  • as clear as mud
  • as fun as cancer
  • as pleasant as a root canal
  • "as pleasant and relaxed as a coiled rattlesnake" (Kurt Vonnegut from Breakfast of Champions)

The irony is recognizable in each case only by using stereotypical knowledge of the source concepts (e.g., that mud is opaque, that root canal surgery is painful) to detect an incongruity.

A fair amount of confusion has surrounded the issue regarding the relationship between verbal irony and sarcasm, and psychology researchers have addressed the issue directly (e.g., Lee & Katz, 1998). For example, ridicule is an important aspect of sarcasm, but not of verbal irony in general. By this account, sarcasm is a particular kind of personal criticism leveled against a person or group of persons that incorporates verbal irony. For example, a woman reports to her friend that rather than going to a medical doctor to treat her cancer, she has decided to see a spiritual healer instead. In response her friend says sarcastically, "Oh, brilliant, what a genius idea, that's really going to cure you." The friend could have also replied with any number of ironic expressions that should not be labeled as sarcasm exactly, but still have many shared elements with sarcasm.

Most instances of verbal irony are labeled by research subjects as sarcastic, suggesting that the term sarcasm is more widely used than its technical definition suggests it should be (Bryant & Fox Tree, 2002; Gibbs, 2000). Some psycholinguistic theorists (e.g., Gibbs, 2000) suggest that sarcasm ("Great idea!", "I hear they do fine work."), hyperbole ("That's the best idea I have heard in years!"), understatement ("Sure, what the hell, it's only cancer..."), rhetorical questions ("What, does your spirit have cancer?"), double entendre ("I'll bet if you do that, you'll be communing with spirits in no time...") and jocularity ("Get them to fix your bad back while you're at it.") should all be considered forms of verbal irony. The differences between these tropes can be quite subtle, and relate to typical emotional reactions of listeners, and the rhetorical goals of the speakers. Regardless of the various ways theorists categorize figurative language types, people in conversation are attempting to decode speaker intentions and discourse goals, and are not generally identifying, by name, the kinds of tropes used

Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony is the device of giving the spectator an item of information that at least one of the characters in the narrative is unaware of (at least consciously), thus placing the spectator a step ahead of at least one of the characters. Dramatic irony has three stages - installation, exploitation and resolution (often also called preparation, suspension and resolution) - producing dramatic conflict in what one character relies or appears to rely upon, the contrary of which is known by observers (especially the audience; sometimes to other characters within the drama) to be true.

For example:

  • In City Lights the audience knows that Charlie Chaplin's character is not a millionaire, but the blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) is unaware and believes he's rich.
  • In North by Northwest, the audience knows that Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is not Kaplan; Vandamm (James Mason) and his accomplices do not. The audience also knows that Kaplan is a fictitious agent invented by the CIA; Roger (initially) and Vandamm (throughout) do not.
  • In Oedipus the King, the reader knows that Oedipus himself is the murderer that he is seeking; Oedipus, Creon and Jocasta do not.
  • In Othello, the audience knows that Desdemona has been faithful to Othello, but Othello does not. The audience also knows that Iago is scheming to bring about Othello's downfall, a fact hidden from Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Roderigo.
  • In Cask of Amontillado, the reader knows something bad is going to happen to Fortunato, while Fortunato does not.
  • In The Truman Show, the viewer is aware that Truman is on a television show, but Truman himself only gradually learns this.

Tragic irony

Tragic irony is a special category of dramatic irony. In tragic irony, the words and actions of the characters contradict the real situation, which the spectators fully realize.

Ancient Greek drama was especially characterized by tragic irony because the audiences were so familiar with the legends that most of the plays dramatized. Sophocles' Oedipus the King provides a classic example of tragic irony at its fullest.

Linda Hutcheon suggests that, by removing the semantic security of the one signifier, one signified equivalency, irony threatens authoritative models of discourse.[3]

Irony has some of its foundation in the onlooker’s perception of paradox which arises from insoluble problems.

For example, in the William Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged death-like sleep, he assumes her to be dead and kills himself. Upon awakening to find her dead lover beside her, Juliet stabs herself with a dagger.

Another example is The Boy In Striped Pyjamas where the main character Bruno, dies in a Nazi concentration camp run by his own father.

Situational irony

This is a relatively modern use of the term, and describes a discrepancy between the expected result and actual results when enlivened by perverse appropriateness.

For example:

  • When John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, all of his shots initially missed the President; however, a bullet ricocheted off the bullet-proof Presidential limousine and struck Reagan in the chest. Thus, a vehicle made to protect the President from gunfire was partially responsible for his being shot.[4]
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story whose plot revolves around irony. Dorothy travels to a wizard and fulfills her challenging demands to go home, before discovering she had the ability to go back home all the time. The Scarecrow longs for intelligence, only to discover he is already a genius, and the Tin Woodsman longs to be capable of love, only to discover he already has a heart. The Lion, who at first appears to be a whimpering coward, turns out to be bold and fearless. The people in Emerald City believed the Wizard to be a powerful deity, only to discover that he is a bumbling, eccentric old man.

Irony of fate (cosmic irony)

The expression “irony of fate” stems from the notion that the gods (or the Fates) are amusing themselves by toying with the minds of mortals with deliberate ironic intent. Closely connected with situational irony, it arises from sharp contrasts between reality and human ideals, or between human intentions and actual results. The resulting situation is poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended. More recently in English, the mere "coincidental or unexpected" has been called ironic, and this usage appears to be gaining ground. It is still considered a minor usage.[2]

Some examples of situations poignantly contrary to expectation:

In art:

  • In O. Henry's story The Gift of the Magi, a young couple are too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts. The wife cuts off her treasured hair to sell it to a wig-maker for money to buy her husband a chain for his heirloom pocket watch. She's shocked when she learns he had pawned his watch to buy her a set of combs for her long, beautiful, prized hair.
  • In the ancient Indian story of Krishna, King Kamsa is told in a prophecy that a child of his sister Devaki would kill him. To prevent this, he imprisons both Devaki and her husband Vasudeva, allowing them to live only if they hand over their children as soon as they are born. He murders nearly all of them, one by one, but the seventh and eighth children, Balarama and Krishna, are saved and raised by a cowherd couple, Nanda and Yashoda. After the boys grow up, Krishna eventually kills Kamsa as the prophecy foretold. Kamsa's attempt to prevent the prophecy led to it becoming a reality. Self-fulfilling prophecies are common motifs in Greek mythology as well. In fact the Indian story is almost exactly the same as the story of Cronus preventing his wife from raising any children, the one who ends up defeating him being Zeus, the later King of the Gods. Other similar tales in Greek Mythology include Perseus (who killed his grandfather, Acrisius by accident with a discus despite Acrisius' attempt to avert his fate) and more famously Oedipus who killed his father and married his mother not knowing their relationship due to being left to die by his father to prevent that very prophecy from occurring.

In history:

  • In 1974 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission had to recall 80,000 of its own lapel buttons promoting "toy safety", because the buttons had sharp edges, used lead paint, and had small clips that could be broken off and subsequently swallowed.[5]
  • Importing cane toads to Australia to protect the environment created worse environmental problems for Australia.

Historical irony (cosmic irony through time)

When history is seen through modern eyes, there often appear sharp contrasts between the way historical figures see their world's future and what actually transpires. For example, during the 1920s The New York Times repeatedly scorned crossword puzzles. In 1924, it lamented "the sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern." In 1925 it said "the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast." Today, no U.S. newspaper is more closely identified with the crossword than The New York Times.[6]

In a more tragic example of historical irony, what people now refer to as "World War I" was originally called "The War to End All Wars" or "The Great War." Historical irony is therefore a subset of cosmic irony, but one in which the element of time is bound to play a role.

Historical irony also includes inventors killed by their own creations, such as William Bullock - unless, due to the nature of the invention, the risk of death was always known and accepted, as in the case of Otto Lilienthal.

Irony in use

Ironic art

One point of view has it that all modern art is ironic because the viewer cannot help but compare it to previous works. For example, any portrait of a standing, non-smiling woman will naturally be compared with the Mona Lisa; the tension of meaning exists, whether the artist meant it or not.

While this does not appear to exactly conform to any of the three types of irony above, there is some evidence that the term "ironic art" is being used in this context.[7] This definition could extend to any sort of modern artistic endeavour: graphic design or music (sampling, for example).

Comic irony

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice begins with the proposition “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” In fact, it soon becomes clear that Austen means the opposite: women (or their mothers) are always in search of, and desperately on the lookout for, a rich single man to make a husband. The irony deepens as the story promotes his romance and ends in a double wedding.

Comic irony from television sketch-comedy has the distinction over literary comic irony in that it often incorporates elements of absurdity. A classic example is where a shark tries to impress his shark friends by learning to surf. He then surfs so well that his friends mistake him for an actual surfer and eat him.[citation needed]

Metafiction

Metafictions are kinds of fiction that self-consciously address the devices of fiction. It usually involves irony and is self-reflective. Metafiction (or “romantic irony” in the sense of roman the prose fiction) refers to the effect when a story is interrupted to remind the audience or reader that it is really only a story. Examples include Henry Fielding’s interruptions of the storyline to comment on what has happened, or J.M. Barrie’s similar interjections in his book, Peter Pan. The concept is also explored in a philosophical context in Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder.

Notable attempts to sustain metafiction throughout a whole novel are Christie Malry's Own Double Entry by B.S. Johnson, in which none of the characters are real and exist only within the author's imagination, and In The Night Room by Peter Straub, in which the narrator is an author, whose fictional character comes to life and accompanies him through the book.

Post irony

The text Smoke Now, Pay Later! is ostensibly claimed to be an advertisement for buying cigarettes on credit. This interpretation could rank as both ironic and post-ironic.

Irony as infinite, absolute negativity

There is a tradition that sees irony not as a limited tool in the sense of the three types of irony above, but as a disruptive force with the power to undo texts and readers alike. This tradition includes Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century German critic and novelist Friedrich Schlegel ("On Incomprehensibility"), Charles Baudelaire, Stendhal, and the 20th century deconstructionist Paul de Man ("The Concept of Irony"). Briefly, it insists that irony is, in Kierkegaard's words, "infinite, absolute negativity". Where much of philosophy attempts to reconcile opposites into a larger positive project, Kierkegaard and others insist that irony—whether expressed in complex games of authorship or simple litotes—must, in Kierkegaard's words, "swallow its own stomach". Irony entails endless reflection and violent reversals, and ensures incomprehensibility at the moment it compels speech. Not surprisingly, irony is the favorite[citation needed] textual property of deconstructionists.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "irony" at dictionary.com
  2. ^ a b Usage note at dictionary.com
  3. ^ Hutcheon, p. 13
  4. ^ The Trial of John W. Hinckley, Jr. by Doug Linder. 2001 Retrieved 9 September 2008.
  5. ^ Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2007, Page B1: It Dawned on Adults After WWII: 'You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!', retrieved October 29, 2009.
  6. ^ Wordplay
  7. ^ Guardian Online: The Final Irony

Bibliography

  • Bogel, Fredric V. "Irony, Inference, and Critical Understanding." Yale Review ): 503-19.
  • Bryant, G. A., & Fox Tree, J. E. (2002). Recognizing verbal irony in spontaneous speech. Metaphor and Symbol, 17, 99-115.
  • Colebrook, Claire. Irony. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Gibbs, R. W. (2000). Irony in talk among friends. Metaphor and Symbol, 15, 5–27.
  • Hutcheon, Linda. Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Lavandier, Yves. Writing Drama, pages 263-315.
  • Lee, C. J., & Katz, A. N. (1998). The differential role of ridicule in sarcasm and irony. Metaphor and Symbol, 13, 1–15.
  • Star, William T. "Irony and Satire: A Bibliography." Irony and Satire in French Literature. Ed. University of South Carolina Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina College of Humanities and Social Sciences, 1987. 183-209.
  • for review of Socratic irony see Kieran Egan The educated mind : how cognitive tools shape our understanding. (1997) University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN p. 137-144

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Quotes on the subject of irony.

Sourced

Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. ~ George Carlin
The ironist is not bitter, he does not seek to undercut everything that seems worthy or serious, he scorns the cheap scoring-off of the wisecracker... He speaks from a certain depth, and thus he is not of the same nature as the wit, who so often speaks from the tongue and no deeper. The wit's desire is to be funny; the ironist is only funny as a secondary achievement. ~ Robertson Davies
Irony is the birth-pangs of the objective mind (based upon the misrelationship, discovered by the I, between existence and the idea of existence). ~ Søren Kierkegaard
God is an iron… and that's a hot one. ~ Spider Robinson
If parody alone can adequately render the reality of our times, only irony offers us the freedom and detachment that are the essential condition of responsible analysis and action. ~ Theodore Ziolkowski
  • 'Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
    And help'd to plant the wound that laid thee low:
    So the struck eagle, stretch'd upon the plain,
    No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
    View'd his own feather on the fatal dart,
    And wing'd the shaft that quiver'd in his heart.
  • Time changes all things and cultivates even in herself an appreciation of irony.
  • Ironic philosophies produce passionate works.
  • Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence.
    If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father's, it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence.
    Irony is "a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result." For instance: a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck. He is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.
    If a Kurd, after surviving bloody battle with Saddam Hussein's army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.
    Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley's son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley's son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum's son, that will be precisely ironic.
  • Neither irony nor sarcasm is argument.
    • Rufus Choate, as quoted in A Treasury of Great American Quotations : Our Country's Life & History in the Thoughts of its Men and Women (1964) by Charles Hurd
  • When irony first makes itself known in a young man's life, it can be like his first experience of getting drunk; he has met with a powerful thing which he does not know how to handle.
  • The ironist is not bitter, he does not seek to undercut everything that seems worthy or serious, he scorns the cheap scoring-off of the wisecracker. He stands, so to speak, somewhat at one side, observes and speaks with a moderation which is occasionally embellished with a flash of controlled exaggeration. He speaks from a certain depth, and thus he is not of the same nature as the wit, who so often speaks from the tongue and no deeper. The wit's desire is to be funny; the ironist is only funny as a secondary achievement.
  • Irony is the gaiety of reflection and the joy of wisdom.
    • Anatole France, as quoted in Satanic Satire in the Modern Novel (1925) by Sidney Stephen Greenleaf, p. 25
  • Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic — if it is pulled out I shall die.
  • Irony is the birth-pangs of the objective mind (based upon the misrelationship, discovered by the I, between existence and the idea of existence). Humor is the birth-pangs of the absolute mind (based upon the misrelationship, discovered by the I, between the I and the idea of the I.
  • Irony, some say, is the art of juxtaposing incongruous parts. One needs a knowing distance. Irony presupposes detachment, which, in the case of Animal Rights, we may forgive Doctor Dillamond for being without.
  • Given a long enough time, of course, a wide enough frame, there is nothing said or done, ever, that isn't ironic in the end.
  • If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.
  • He knew that women appreciated neither irony nor sarcasm, but simple jokes and funny stories. He was amply provided with both.
  • Surely the cosmic irony that loves men's dullness because it alone can preserve them from madness, and retorts upon the cosmic terrors with a jest, is higher than gallantry and more enduring. It arrives at tolerance for all human shortcomings; it embraces high and low in its sympathies; it achieves urbanity as a final goal. It is the stuff of which great literature is made.
  • Irony is the form of paradox. Paradox is what is good and great at the same time.
  • Irony is an insult conveyed in the form of a compliment.
    • Edwin Percy Whipple, in Lectures on Subjects Connected with Literature and Life (1859), Lecture III : Wit and Humor, p. 102
  • If parody alone can adequately render the reality of our times, only irony offers us the freedom and detachment that are the essential condition of responsible analysis and action.

External links

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Simple English

Irony is when something happens that is opposite from what is expected. It can often be funny, but is also used in tragedies. There are many types of irony, including:

  • Dramatic irony, when the audience knows something is going to happen on stage that the characters on stage do not.
  • Socratic irony, when someone (usually a teacher) pretends to be stupid in order to show how stupid his pupils are (while at the same time the reader or audience understand the situation).
  • Cosmic irony, when something that everyone thinks will happen actually happens very differently.
  • Situational irony e.g. Mr. Smith gets a parking ticket. Mr. Smith is a traffic warden.
  • Verbal Irony is an absence of expression and intention. e.x - Sarcasm
  • Irony of Fate is the misfortune in the result of fate or chance.

Examples

  • In Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet takes a potion that will put her to sleep, making her look dead. She does this in the hopes of being reunited with Romeo. He incorrectly learns of her death, and kills himself. This is an example of Dramatic Irony, as the reader/viewer knows she is not dead, but Romeo does not.
  • A common example of cosmic irony could be that a child wants some kind of pudding, and misbehaves to try to get it. The parent withholds it because of the child's behavior.
  • Verbal Irony can be found in sarcasm, but not just that.


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