Definition of irony
2a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaningb : a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by ironyc : an ironic expression or utterance
3a (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 incongruityb : 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
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.
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.
Origin and Etymology of irony
Latin ironia, from Greek eirōnia, from eirōn dissembler
First Known Use: 1502
Synonym Discussion of irony
IRONY Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of irony for English Language Learners
: 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 Defined for Kids
Definition of irony for Students
1 : the use of words that mean the opposite of what is really meant
2 : a result opposite to what was expected
Seen and Heard
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