Meaning of Irony

Irony is one of the most popular literary devices; however it is also one of the most commonly misunderstood. The reason for this is that irony actually encompasses various different definitions. Sarcasm, sardonicism, dry humor, and cynicism are all types of irony.

Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity. Irony is also a contrast between what the expectations of a situation are and what really the case is. In the most basic form, irony is when one expects something to happen, but the exact opposite of that happens. For example: The name of Britain’s biggest dog was “Tiny”.

According to Henry Watson Fowler, an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator who published various English grammar books, “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.”

This definition of irony is showcased in Sophocles’s play “Oedipus Rex”, where the main character, Oedipus curses the murderer of the old king, not realizing that he was actually the one who killed the king. However, the secondary audience, the public watching the play knows that Oedipus killed the king, who was in fact his own father, and that now he is unwittingly cursing himself.

There are many different types of irony, and each one different, which makes a uniform definition of irony nearly impossible. There 6 apparent types of irony: dramatic, cosmic, Socratic, situational, verbal, and irony of fate.

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