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

The irony is that this leaves presidential debates focused on domestic policies that presidents are, in fact, far less empowered to enact. Heather Souvaine Horn, The New Republic, "Let’s Get Into a Fight About Foreign Policy," 1 Aug. 2019 Claptone The irony of using a mask to remain anonymous is that the mask goes on to become instantly recognizable. Kat Bein, Billboard, "11 DJs Who Wear Masks and the Stories Behind Them," 29 July 2019 Here is the irony: Some of the AIA's biggest crowds came during a December weekend at Scottsdale Chaparral, when the gym was overflow for the Hoophall West that featured Ohio's Spire Institute, a national team led by point guard LaMelo Ball. Richard Obert, azcentral, "Phoenix metro area has suddenly become a hotbed for prep basketball academies," 19 July 2019 The irony is that there's actually a boom in the job market for physicians. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune, "California’s Gambit to Keep Its Doctors: Brainstorm Health," 17 July 2019 The irony is that the evidence on drug pricing calls for caution and calm. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Requiem for a Rebate Rule," 11 July 2019 The irony is fascinating: That a show made for and originally aired on a broadcast network — the very thing viewers, especially younger viewers, have increasingly abandoned in favor of streaming — is the most popular show on Netflix. Nina Metz, chicagotribune.com, "‘The Office’ is Netflix’s most popular show, even though it was made for and originally aired on an old-school broadcast network. Oh, the irony," 3 July 2019 The irony of playing on a team with his personal hero was that Mensah was also partially blocking the path for Abubakar to get first-team minutes with Columbus. Mark Goodman, The Denver Post, "Colorado Rapids defender Lalas Abubakar is going places, and he doesn’t seem to mind," 21 June 2019 The irony of the Davis trade going down now and drawing comparison to the Nets-Celtics deal is that Brooklyn has a chance to overtake Boston this summer. Rohan Nadkarni, SI.com, "No, the Lakers Did Not Give Up Too Much for Anthony Davis," 17 June 2019

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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