irony

noun
iro·​ny | \ ˈī-rə-nē How to pronounce irony (audio) also ˈī(-ə)r-nē How to pronounce irony (audio) \
plural ironies

Definition of irony

1a : 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
2a(1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result
(2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity
b : incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play

called also dramatic irony

3 : 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

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Choose the Right Synonym for irony

wit, humor, irony, sarcasm, satire, repartee mean a mode of expression intended to arouse amusement. wit suggests the power to evoke laughter by remarks showing verbal felicity or ingenuity and swift perception especially of the incongruous. a playful wit humor implies an ability to perceive the ludicrous, the comical, and the absurd in human life and to express these usually without bitterness. a sense of humor irony applies to a manner of expression in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is seemingly expressed. the irony of the title sarcasm applies to expression frequently in the form of irony that is intended to cut or wound. given to heartless sarcasm satire applies to writing that exposes or ridicules conduct, doctrines, or institutions either by direct criticism or more often through irony, parody, or caricature. a satire on the Congress repartee implies the power of answering quickly, pointedly, or wittily. a dinner guest noted for repartee

What's irony?

Considerable thought is given to what events constitute “true” irony, and the dictionary is often called upon to supply an answer. Here are the facts about how the word irony is used.

Irony has two formal uses that are not as common in general prose as its more casual uses. One refers to Socratic irony—a method of revealing an opponent’s ignorance by pretending to be ignorant yourself and asking probing questions. The other refers to dramatic irony or tragic irony—an incongruity between the situation in a drama and the words used by the characters that only the audience can see. Socratic irony is a tool used in debating; dramatic irony is what happens when the audience realizes that Romeo and Juliet’s plans will go awry.

The third, and debated, use of irony regards what’s called situational irony. Situational irony involves a striking reversal of what is expected or intended: a person sidesteps a pothole to avoid injury and in doing so steps into another pothole and injures themselves. Critics claim the words irony and ironic as they are used in cases lacking a striking reversal, such as “Isn’t it ironic that you called just as I was planning to call you?,” are more properly called coincidence.

The historical record shows that irony and ironic have been used imprecisely for almost 100 years at least, and often to refer to coincidence. This 1939 quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald is typical: "It is an ironic thought that the last picture job I took—against my better judgment—yielded me five thousand dollars five hundred and cost over four thousand in medical attention." Is this true situational irony? It’s debatable.

The word irony has come to be applied to events that are merely curious or coincidental, and while some feel this is an incorrect use of the word, it is merely a new one.

Examples of irony in a Sentence

The great irony of human intelligence is that the only species on Earth capable of reason, complex-problem solving, long-term planning and consciousness understands so little about the organ that makes it all possible—the brain. — Amanda Bower, Time, 20 Aug. 2001 The great irony of anthracite is that, tough as it is to light, once you get it lit it's nearly impossible to put out. — Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, 1999 And the irony is obvious: those who once had been the victims of separatism, who had sacrificed so dearly to overcome their being at the margins, would later create an ethos of their own separatism. — Shelby Steele, Harper's, July 1992 a writer known for her clever use of irony “What a beautiful view,” he said, his voice dripping with irony, as he looked out the window at the alley. She described her vacation with heavy irony as “an educational experience.” It was a tragic irony that he made himself sick by worrying so much about his health. That's just one of life's little ironies. The irony of the situation was apparent to everyone. He has a strong sense of irony.
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Recent Examples on the Web But Trump has exempted H-2A workers from the visa suspension because his administration deems them essential workers—itself a profound irony, given Trump’s frequent insistence that America doesn’t need foreign workers to get by. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, "How to Fix America’s Broken Guest-Worker System," 24 June 2020 Others, however, delight in the irony of their fandom. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "My Little Pony Fans Are Ready to Admit They Have a Nazi Problem," 23 June 2020 The sweet irony of that these days isn’t lost on anyone who sees him coming. Sue Wunder, The Christian Science Monitor, "Out of quarantine, and into my heart," 17 June 2020 The irony, given Pride’s history as a protest aimed against police, is not lost on anyone. Eliza Huber, refinery29.com, "Here’s Why People Wore White To The Black Trans Lives Matter March," 16 June 2020 Saenz’s father, Andre Ray, in an interview with The News, pointed to the irony of his black son being injured at a protest against police brutality. Dallas News, "A Dallas man lost his eye in a protest. Now he wants Police Chief Hall to find those responsible," 3 June 2020 White artists are putting themselves forward to create replacement sculptures of slave owners with no sense of irony. Thomas J Price, Time, "Taking Down Statues Isn't Enough. We Need to Radically Rethink How We Celebrate Power," 17 June 2020 In the strangest irony, the methods used to identify the criminal were essentially versions of the physical anthropology that Mengele had been trained in. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Revisiting Mengele’s Malignant “Race Science”," 15 June 2020 One irony of the affair is that concerns about the rush to publish science during the pandemic had been focused on preprints. The Economist, "The search for a covid-19 treatment Hydroxychloroquine is embroiled in yet more controversy," 13 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'irony.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of irony

1502, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for irony

Latin ironia, from Greek eirōnia, from eirōn dissembler

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Time Traveler for irony

Time Traveler

The first known use of irony was in 1502

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Statistics for irony

Last Updated

3 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Irony.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irony. Accessed 13 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for irony

irony

noun
How to pronounce irony (audio) How to pronounce irony (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of irony

: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny
: a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected

irony

noun
iro·​ny | \ ˈī-rə-nē How to pronounce irony (audio) \
plural ironies

Kids Definition of irony

1 : the use of words that mean the opposite of what is really meant
2 : a result opposite to what was expected

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Comments on irony

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