Irony is a widely used and often misunderstood rhetorical device. Due to the depth of information, as well as its tendency to be misused, I’ve broken the subject down into a multi-part explainer.
First, let’s start with the irony definition. After a quick search of The Web, I found a good definition at typesofirony.com.
Irony is a figure of speech which is a contradiction or incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs.
While this is a reasonable definition, it should be noted that it is imprecise, and no specific definition of irony is completely agreed upon throughout the literary community.
There are actually 3 types of irony, and the first we’re going to talk about in our series is verbal irony.
As you might expect, verbal irony is that which is spoken. It’s usually an intentional effect of the speaker to say the opposite of what is obvious, and vocal inflection is very useful for this type of irony.
An example might be, on a 90° degree summer day, a corny dad might say “Brr, sure is chilly today!” Clearly it’s not chilly, but the intended effect is to make a verbally ironic joke. These types of jokes generally illicic a sensible chuckle. They are also a great way to embarrass your teenage children.
A sub-class of verbal irony is sarcasm. Not all verbal irony is sarcasm, just like not all sarcasm is ironic, however there’s a lot of overlap.
An example of verbally ironic sarcasm might be something like: After seeing a terrible movie you might say, “I’d sure love to see that one again.” Vocal inflection is particularly important in the case of sarcasm lest someone believe you’re speaking in earnest. You definitely don’t want to get stuck seeing Kangaroo Jack a second time.
Another very common example of verbally ironic sarcasm is when people say “Yeah, right!” when they actually mean “No.” You can see that both “yeah” and “right” are affirmative words, but with the right sarcastic inflection, they become a negative.
That concludes Part 1 of my series on Irony. I hope you’ve learned a little something.