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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Ironic" redirects here. For the song, see Ironic (song). For other uses, see Irony

A stop sign ironically defaced with a plea not to deface stop signs.

Irony (from Ancient Greek (eirnea), meaning "dissimulation, feigned ignorance" ),

in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an
incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really
the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of
the situation that led to it. Irony may be divided into categories such as: verbal, dramatic,
and situational.

Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth.
The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes can emphasize one's
meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the
contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

Other forms, as identified by historian Connop Thirlwall, include dialectic and practical irony.



1 Definitions

2 Origin of the term

3 Types
3.1 Verbal irony

3.1.1 Verbal irony and sarcasm

3.2 Dramatic irony

3.2.1 Tragic irony

3.3 Situational irony

3.3.1 Cosmic irony (Irony of fate)

3.3.2 Historical irony

4 Use

4.1 Comic irony

4.2 Romantic irony and metafiction

4.3 Socratic irony

4.4 Irony as infinite, absolute negativity

4.5 Irony and awkwardness

5 Misuse

6 Punctuation

7 See also

8 Notes

9 Bibliography

10 External links

Henry Watson Fowler, in The King's English, says "any definition of ironythough hundreds
might be given, and very few of them would be acceptedmust include this, that the surface
meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same." Also, Eric Partridge,
in Usage and Abusage, writes that "Irony consists in stating the contrary of what is meant."

The use of irony may require the concept of a double audience. Fowler's A Dictionary of
Modern English Usage says:
Irony is a form of utterance that postulates a double audience, consisting of one party that
hearing shall hear & shall not understand, & another party that, when more is meant than
meets the ear, is aware both of that more & of the outsiders' incomprehension.

The term is sometimes used as a synonym for incongruous and applied to "every trivial
oddity" in situations where there is no double audience. An example of such usage is:

Sullivan, whose real interest was, ironically, serious music, which he composed with varying
degrees of success, achieved fame for his comic opera scores rather than for his more
earnest efforts.

The American Heritage Dictionary's secondary meaning for irony: "incongruity between what
might be expected and what actually occurs". This sense, however, is not synonymous with
"incongruous" but merely a definition of dramatic or situational irony. It is often included in
definitions of irony not only that incongruity is present but also that the incongruity must
reveal some aspect of human vanity or folly. Thus 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."


On this aspect, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has also:

A condition of affairs or events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be,
expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the promise and fitness of
things. (In French ironie du sort.)

Origin of the term

According to the Encyclopdia Britannica,
The term irony has its roots in the Greek comic character Eiron, a clever underdog who by
his wit repeatedly triumphs over the boastful character Alazon. The Socratic irony of
the Platonic dialogues derives from this comic origin.

According to Richard Whately:

Aristotle mentions Eironeia, which in his time was commonly employed to signify, not
according to the modern use of 'Irony, saying the contrary to what is meant', but, what later
writers usually express by Litotes, i.e. 'saying less than is meant'.

The word came into English as a figure of speech in the 16th century as similar to the
French ironie. It derives from the Latin ironia and ultimately from the
Greek eirnea, meaning dissimulation, ignorance purposely affected.


A "No smoking" sign surrounded by images of a smoking Sherlock Holmesat Baker Street tube station.

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics distinguishes between the following
types of irony:

Classical irony: referring to the origins of irony in Ancient Greek comedy, and the
way classical and medieval rhetoricians delineated the term.

Romantic irony: The Encyclopedia states that "The most significant change in
meaning took place in 1797, when Schlegel observed in his Fragments: 'there are
ancient and modern poems which breathe throughout, in their entirety and in every
detail, the divine breath of [irony].'" It is seen as "a consistent alternation of affirmation
and negation, of exuberant emergence from oneself and self-critical retreat into oneself,
of enthusiasm and skepticism."

Tragic irony: The Encyclopedia says this term: "was introduced by Connop
Thirlwall in 1833, who based it on a distinction among three basic types of [irony]: verbal,
dialectic, and practical."

Cosmic irony: "[Irony] took on a new and more comprehensive dimension

with Hegel, who strongly opposed romantic [irony] because of its "annihilating" tendency,
seeing in it nothing but poetic caprice."
In The History of Philosophy, Hegel sensed in the "crowding of world historical affairs," in
the trampling down of the "happiness of peoples, wisdom of states, and virtue of
individuals," in short, in his comprehensive view of history, an ironic contrast between the
absolute and the relative, the general and the individual, which he expressed by the
phrase, "general [irony] of the world."

Verbal irony: The Encyclopedia states that, in this:

one meaning is stated and a different, usually antithetical, meaning is intended. The
[irony] of a statement often depends on context. If one looks out of his window at a rain
storm and remarks to a friend, "Wonderful day, isn't it?" the contradiction between the
facts and the implied description of them establishes the [irony].

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