Irony pervades contemporary language. From its use in sarcasm, comedy and just everyday conversation, irony has long transcended from only being a literary device.
Irony can best be defined as that middle ground between what is said and what is meant, or others’ understanding of what was said and what was meant. It can sometimes be a bit confusing, yet at the same time it can also be amusing. There are several examples of irony which can be summed up in various categories.
This type of irony may occur when the outcome of a certain situation is completely different than what was initially expected. It is often referred to as an “irony of events.”
Examples of irony in the situational category include a contradiction or sharp contrast.
- Example: A person who claims to be a vegan and avoids meat but will eat a slice of pepperoni pizza because they are hungry. It may not make sense, but it is an illustration of irony.
- Example: A man who is a traffic cop gets his license suspended for unpaid parking tickets.
- Example: An ambulance driver goes to a nightime bike accident scene and runs over the accident victim because the victim has crawled to the center of the road with their bike.
For more examples, check out Examples of Irony in History.
This type of irony can be attributed to some sort of misfortune. Usually cosmic irony is the end result of fate or chance.
- Example: Gambling. If you are playing blackjack chances are you will be up (making money) for awhile, and then just when you thought things were going well, you lose it all.
- Example: The Titanic was promoted as being 100% unsinkable; but, in 1912 the ship sank on its maiden voyage.
- Example: At a ceremony celebrating the rehabilitation of seals after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, at an average cost of $80,000 per seal, two seals were released back into the wild only to be eaten within a minute by a killer whale.
Cosmic irony feeds on the notion that people cannot see the effects of their actions, and sometimes the outcome of a person’s actions may be out of their control.
Dramatic irony occurs when there is miscommunication in a book, play or film and the audience is smarter than the characters.
- Example: As an audience member, you realize that if a character walks into an abandoned warehouse, chances are a killer is waiting... but because you are a member of the audience you cannot disclose the information to the character.
- Example: In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged state and he thinks she is dead. He kills himself. When Juliet wakes up she finds Romeo dead and kills herself.
- Example: In Macbeth by William Shakespeare Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan but he is planning Duncan's murder. Duncan doesn't know Macbeth's plans but the audience knows what is going to happen.
This is most often seen in horror films. If you are watching a horror movie, you know by the actions of a character that their number is about to be up.
For more examples, check out Dramatic Irony Examples.
This type of irony is most relative in the great world of academia and is related to the Socratic teaching method. The Socratic teaching method encourages students to think and present opposing views while the teacher plays ignorant.
- Example: Later on in the lesson the teacher completely embarrasses the student, by illustrating how their points were both foolish and ignorant.
The Socratic teaching method is widely used at prestigious colleges and universities on the undergraduate level where bustling minds are quick to ignore the obvious in exchange for coming up with a grand explanation to a not so grand problem.
- Example: Another way in which Socratic irony is used is when a person pretends to be completely ignorant about a topic in an argument just to get an upper hand in the argument.
- Example: A professor never answers questions and does not explain key concepts of the course; however he expects students to come to class after having read their assignment, ready to answer the professor's questions.
- Example: A child asks his parents how the presents got under the Christmas tree to which the parents reply that they have no idea.
Socratic irony can be used as a tactical strategy in getting what you want.
Sarcasm is yet another popular form of irony where the user intends to wittily attack or make a derogatory statement about something or someone. Often, sarcasm is confused with irony instead of being a recognized form of irony.
- Example: A beautiful actress walked by a table of talent agents as one said “there goes a good time that was had by all.” The talent agent said the phrase referring to the young actress’ extracurricular activities with fellow talent agents. It was a derogatory statement, yet created with wit.
- Example: At a party a lady tells Winston Churchhill he is drunk to which Churchhill said "My dear, you are ugly...but tomorrow I shall be sober."
- Example: In "The Canterbury Tales" Chaucer criticizes the clergy who had become corrupt, by referring to the Friar as a "wanton and merry" person who takes bribes and seduces women.
Sarcasm can often be funny and witty, yet simultaneously it can be hurtful and humiliating.