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What Is Irony?


In the 1994 movie “Reality Bites,” the character played by Winona Ryder, interviewing for a reporting job, is put on the spot and asked to define the word “Irony.” She can’t. It’s a scene that sticks with me as a writer, because I can’t say that cornered like that I’d do much better. I know that most of the examples in the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic” aren’t really ironic—but it’s a tough concept, and I’m not alone in fumbling with it. 

A guest blogger at Daily Writing Tips writes: Recently I was walking and talking with my co-worker, who happens to be a freelance writer and aspiring journalist. We were talking about the fact that our employers were providing us with a Thanksgiving lunch the day after Thanksgiving, and she said, “It’s so ironic!’’—all emphasis and drawing-out of syllables possible used on the last word. This is a smart girl I’m talking about. She’s a college graduate and has done her fair share of writing and reporting. And even so, she doesn’t know the definition of irony.

“Merriam-Webster defines irony as:

1: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony

2: a) the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning
b) a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony
c) an ironic expression or utterance

“A simple way of putting it is that irony usually signals a difference between the appearance of things and reality.”

See more at Daily Writing Tips

Also see the website Is It Ironic for many good (and bad) examples of irony.