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What you think irony means: Something that is funny.
What irony really means: Contrary to what you are expecting.


Let me explain the irony in the comic above, it’s humorous because if you were to give your right arm, you could no longer be ambidextrous! Ambidextrous means to be able to use both hands/arms, for example, being able to write with both your left and right hands. Irony can be funny but not everything funny is irony!

The term “irony” is often misused because it is often defined incorrectly. Authors use irony to make their writing more interesting. Television and movie producers use irony to make their shows interesting and funny. Let’s discover, once and for all, what irony is.

There are Three Types of Irony

  • Situational irony
  • Dramatic irony
  • Verbal irony

Situational irony: The opposite of what you think

Situational irony occurs when the final outcome is contradictory to what was expected or considered appropriate. Also called irony of fate, irony of events, and irony of circumstance, but it is also more generally understood as a situation that includes contradictions or sharp contrasts. Watch this video from Ted-Ed to learn about situational irony.

Dramatic irony: When the audience knows something that the characters don’t.

If you’re watching a movie about the Titanic and a character leaning on the balcony right before the ship hits the iceberg says, “It’s so beautiful I could just die,” that’s an example of dramatic irony. Watch this video from Ted-Ed to learn about dramatic irony.

Verbal irony: When speakers say the opposite of what they mean.

Verbal irony also called sarcasm or being sarcastic, is when words express something contrary to truth or someone says the opposite of what they really feel or mean. An irony in which a person says or writes one thing and means another, or uses words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning. When you say something sarcastically, your tone and your words mean two opposite things. That is ironic. Watch this video from Ted-Ed to learn about verbal irony.

To sum up Irony is a literary device that relies on the difference between expectation and outcome. So something that is ironic is unexpected:

  • If unexpected by a character, it’s dramatic.
  • If unexpected by everyone, it’s situational.
  • If it’s sarcasm, it’s verbal.

Just in case you encounter this term cosmic irony“, it’s a type of situational irony, cosmic irony occurs when a situation, action, or event thought to have a positive outcome results in a negative outcome through circumstance rather than the actions of a specific person. These events are blamed on an unknown force, usually referred to as God, Fate, or the Universe, which seems responsible for the negative consequences. Also called irony of fate, this is popularly used in casual speech as well as in literature and can be seen in history. It’s the idea that fate, destiny, or a god controls and toys with human hopes and expectations; also, the belief that the universe is so large and man is so small that the universe is indifferent to the plight of man. It’s pretty much similar to throwing one’s arms in the air and shouting “The universe is against me!” Feel free to do that, by the way.

Socratic Irony

Ironically, playing dumb can sometimes be the best way to show how smart you are. Socratic irony is when you pretend to be ignorant to expose the ignorance or inconsistency of someone else. Socrates was a famous Greek philosopher known for his probing questions. That should help you remember that Socratic irony is a technique where the questioner admits (falsely) to not knowing something as a way of tricking the other person into revealing his own lack of knowledge or a flaw in his logic. Socratic irony involves pretending to be ignorant to show someone else is ignorant: thus, the irony.

Teachers everywhere use Socratic irony in the classroom all the time, when they ask questions to their students. So Socratic irony is a technique used in the Socratic method of teaching. Your parents as well, use Socratic irony, when they pretend not to know about something you’d done, only to ask you a series of seemingly innocent questions leading to your inevitable confession! They may not realize it, but parents everywhere employ Socratic irony to get to the bottom of things, since it is the practice of simulating ignorance in order to reveal the errors in another person’s viewpoint or argument.

Someone attempting to use Socratic irony might sound like the old television detective Columbo who always undervalued his own talents to make the suspect think he was an idiot.

Does irony have anything to do with iron? No, it has to do with gold. Which is ironic. Unless it’s not. 🙂 

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