It seems there are some people in this world who are speaking a language yet fail to understand it. This is not their fault but that of their teachers.
Just lately I’ve been subjected to many verbal attacks from people who have not picked up on my use of this ‘subject area.’ Either that or they have confused it with something else and still been upset.
Alanis Morissette sang an appalling song about this word and so she must take some responsibility. Actually, that’s not fair; the singing and music were fine, the lyrics completely misrepresented this word. This word is often confused with sarcasm. So…
The Word of the Week: irony
Irony is saying the opposite of what you mean while making it clear what you mean . It’s easier to convey irony in speech than it is to in writing: equally, it is easier to detect in speech than in writing. .
Well conveyed irony allows a writer or speaker to make a judgement on his/her subject without being heavy handed. Sarcasm is like irony, but where you intend to cause offence. Got that?
Below you’ll find a few examples of different types of irony from some published examples that happen to be my favourites. Look out for the double meanings.
“The death in captivity in South Africa of John Cheekykaffir, leader of the movement among black South Africans to persuade the government to admit that they mostly have two legs each, has given rise to a considerable amount of disquiet, controversy, criticism and kicking demonstrators in the head. It will be recalled that Cheekykaffir, who was twenty-two years old at the time of his death, was said by the Minister of Justice, Mr Sjambok-Gering, to have died of old age. Asked at a press conference how a man of twenty-two could die of old age, he said that he was himself a qualified doctor and had examined the body shortly before the murder, and it was clear to him that old age was the cause. ‘All the signs of old age were present,’ he said, ‘a broken nose, torn ears, boot marks on his ribs, the lot. Anyway, the inquest decided that it was old age and that settles it.’ At this, several reporters pointed out that the inquest had not been held, and the Minister explained that that had nothing to do with it. ‘If we are going to wait for an inquest to be held before we announce its findings,’ he said, ‘our admirable and overworked police force would never have the time to murder anybody at all.’ ” (Bernard Levin – journalist and author, deceased)
The absurdity of the above piece is made apparent if the first sentence, so from there on in you are tuned in to Levin’s exact tone which would almost be lost if you took any part of it out of context. We know from that first sentence, not to take his meaning literally. Genius.
The next piece is from Malcolm Bradbury’s Who Do You Think You Are? This was written many years before the events of 9/11 or the London Al-Quaeda bombings. Read the book.
“But it was good to be near the city centre, to see the new sky-scraper blocks rising, the neon flashing, the ambulances roaring, the rattle of terrorist explosions, the pulse and throb of modern urban living. They moved through the new Bull Ring, the new underpasses, the multi-storey car parks, the concrete complexities of New Street station, because he had constantly travelled to London, on the Inter-City, to sit on committees, see his publisher, advisereform groups, take part in a demo, do a television programme. He was not a narrow academic; and he had arranged his teaching timetable at the university so that he could have one free day a week to keep up in the world.”
There’s more than one example of irony in there. Forget whatever our friend Alanis sang.
Just to finish off, sarcasm IS close to irony, but is always bitter and its intention is to hurt.