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, tragic 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 word irony and ironic as they are generally used (as in, “Isn’t it ironic that you called just as I was planning to call you?”) can only apply to situational irony, and uses like the one above 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 note the irony that President Trump succeeded when Barack Obama couldn’t. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Lessons of a Crime Bill," 21 Dec. 2018 Because the irony is the strengths associated with middle children come not from parental nurturing but parental inattention. Adam Sternbergh, The Cut, "The Extinction of the Middle Child," 11 July 2018 The irony is that this spring there has been snow in abundance, with 20 centimeters (8 inches) of fresh powder falling on Crans-Montana pistes last weekend and as much as 4 meters of snow near the upper reaches of the 2,927-meter summit. Bloomberg.com, "Bond's Favorite Swiss Ski Resort Loses License to Thrill," 5 Apr. 2018 In one of the greatest ironies of 2018, teenagers rushed into the void. Lara Backmender, Glamour, "The March for Our Lives Activists Who Said Never Again," 1 Nov. 2018 The great irony, experts and diplomats say, is that any North Korea deal will probably be as limited as the Iran deal was: a narrow, laser focus on the nuclear program. Tracy Wilkinson, latimes.com, "Would a North Korea nuclear deal be better than the one Trump just abandoned with Iran?," 8 June 2018 But meantime, in a moment of great irony, Donald J. Trump seemed to issue a threat of his own to trigger a government shutdown if his own immigration proposals aren’t instantly adopted. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Picks Up Shutdown Threat Over Immigration After Dems Drop It," 6 Feb. 2018 In a grim irony, legacy carriers that have adopted Wow's methods are reaping the benefits, Keyes says. Sam Blum, Popular Mechanics, "Are the Discount Airlines Doomed?," 29 Mar. 2019 But closing reportage of everyday New Yorkers brashly extolling Gotti’s virtues upon his death, painting him, without any irony, as some kind of local hero, pretty much tells you where this picture’s coming from. Gary Goldstein, latimes.com, "Overly reverent bio-pic 'Gotti' strands a solid John Travolta performance in less-than-epic drama," 15 June 2018

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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More Definitions for irony

irony

noun

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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More from Merriam-Webster on irony

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for irony

Spanish Central: Translation of irony

Nglish: Translation of irony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of irony for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about irony

Comments on irony

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