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Irony – Grammar et al

Irony, used gently conveys amused mockery or banter.  It is the back bone of spoofs and has a notorious role in the British sense of humour.  Having done some research I found it really difficult to find a simple description that easily conveys its meaning.  This, I think, is because what might seem ironic to me may not necessarily seem to be ironic to others.

For the purpose of this Blog irony is the use of language to convey an outward meaning and different inward meaning.  Irony tends to fall into three categories

The first is where there are two audiences, one that understands what is going on and is privy to the underlying plot and acts as an observer whilst the other is uninitiated can only react to the outward meaning, a good example is ‘Candid Camera’ which links dramatic irony with humour.

The second is rhetorical irony which is based on the use of language that is saying one thing whilst deliberately meaning the opposite which is obvious to the listener; for example when someone says “Warm enough for you” but actually means what a cold and wet day it really is.  Hyperbole is used to great ironic effect.

The third is situational or circumstantial irony where the expected outcome is opposite to the actual outcome better perhaps described as a flaw of fate.  This tends to be subjective.

Irony is sometimes confused with sarcasm.  Certainly irony is a major means in the Sarcastic’s tool box.  But when it is used it is cruel, taunts and ridicules.

But there can be a fine line between what one finds humorous and what others may consider to be bullying.  Now I am not going all politically correct here – what I am saying is that, it is worth considering whether the words you are using and implying will come across without the support of your tone of voice and body language.

Even when you speak ironically the listener may not necessarily be on the same wave length and your humour may hit way of the mark.  When you don’t have the bonus of sight and tonal communication – irony needs to be used carefully.


Many written works are considered masterpieces of irony and the authors have set the tone based on the words that they used so that you are in doubt as to the genre you are reading.  In short marketing pieces whether it is internal or external communications the use of words must be considered carefully to ensure the correct message is received.

Let’s face it – if your literal meaning, which has an alternative intention, is acted upon literally; you may not be laughing.  Imagine if your April fools joke is actually believed by your clients and staff?  Likewise if you make a flippant comment that someone takes seriously!  Ratner’s crap gold jewellery springs to mind!

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