What Is Irony? (With Examples)

By Guest Author

what is ironyRecently I was walking and talking with my co-worker, who happens to be a freelance writer and aspiring journalist. We were talking about the fact that our employers were providing us with a Thanksgiving lunch the day after Thanksgiving, and she said, “It’s so ironic!’’ – all emphasis and drawing-out of syllables possible used on the last word.

This is a smart girl I’m talking about. She’s a college graduate and has done her fair share of writing and reporting. And even so, she doesn’t know the definition of irony.

Merriam-Webster defines irony as:

1: 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

2: a) 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

3: a) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result; 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

A simple way of putting it is that irony usually signals a difference between the appearance of things and reality. For instance, here is how Wikipedia defines it: “Ironic statements (verbal irony) often convey a meaning exactly opposite from their literal meaning. In ironic situations (situational irony), actions often have an effect exactly opposite from what is intended.”

Confusion is such that there is even a website, IsItIronic.com, where you can post your own question about whether or not something is ironic. Readers will cast their own vote – you can see the percentages of the votes – and the website will provide the final yes or no verdict.

Here are some examples of irony (or the lack of):

Is it ironic that I posted a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook?
Reader’s Verdict: 93% NOT IRONIC; 7% IRONIC. Final Verdict: NOT IRONIC.

Is it ironic that the name of Britain’s biggest dog (until it died recently) was Tiny?
Reader’s Verdict: 75% IRONIC; 25% NOT IRONIC. Final Verdict: IRONIC.

Is it ironic that I can’t go to church because I have a theology test to study for?
Reader’s Verdict: 95% NOT IRONIC; 5% IRONIC. Final Verdict: NOT IRONIC.

Is it ironic that someone steps into a puddle and you make fun of them… and the next thing you know – YOU step in one!?
Reader’s Verdict: 94% IRONIC; 6% NOT IRONIC. Final Verdict: IRONIC.

Has Alanis Morissette spoiled irony for us forever? Perhaps my generation is just in recovery from her 1995 lyrics. What do you think – do you understand the meaning of irony? Do people around you?

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195 Responses to “What Is Irony? (With Examples)”

  • Ellen Feld

    Mmmmh . . .

    I agree with Guest Author’s coworker, who found it ironic to have a Thanksgiving lunch post-Thanksgiving. Perhaps the real thanks was that the holiday was finally over and she could eat pumpkin pie without gratitude or remorse?

    I also find some irony in the first and third “verdicts.” I thought all four examples demonstrated irony.

    All of the above seem to fit into one or more of the dictionary definitions.

    Am I missing the non-irony, or is some irony being missed?

    I do know that young children don’t understand irony. They have no definition for it.

    I’m going off to ponder . . .

    Thank you, Guest Author, for raising some questions.


  • ApK

    Yeah, I agree. Some of Alanis’s lyrics are hard to swallow as irony (yes, that was a jagged little pill reference), but I too disagree with the reader assessments. Like this one:

    “Is it ironic that I posted a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook?”

    Yes, ironic, definitely, unless you truly made a boring and useless video and put it on Facebook to hide it. If you expected your video to be seen and enjoyed (or to server a purpose) then, yes, that is irony all the way.

  • Manasvini

    And is ironic synonymous with sarcastic? (dictionaries seem to think so)

    I once read a Beetle Bailey Cartoon strip that really got irony “clear” to me 🙂
    I couldn’t find a link to the exact strip I have in mind, but here’s the gist:

    Sarge (looking at Zero’s crumpled shirt): That’s we very well pressed shirt you have on there!

    Zero, the company simpleton (looking at his shirt): Looks crumpled to me!

    Sarge: You don’t understand irony do you??

    Next panel has Zero busy ironing his shirt, saying “I’ll show how who doesn’t understand irony!”

  • thebluebird11

    I’m also college-educated, but I’m also perplexed with this whole irony thing. With the 4 ironic/non-ironic examples given, I got them exactly opposite of the “official” verdicts. My personal jury is still out on the post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner thing. I’m thinking it’s not ironic, it’s just a misnomer. I remember the whole fuss when Alanis’ song came out, with people saying how it was or wasn’t ironic, etc. You know, what I end up doing is avoiding the whole subject! I never use the word (for fear of using it inappropriately) and I don’t pass judgement (judgment) on people who do. Until the concept is clear to me, I will continue to avoid using the word. And I’m sorry to say that (perhaps ironically??) this post has not clarifiied things for me!

  • Kathryn

    I think part of the problem is that people have different perceptions as to the extent of the difference between appearance and reality (using Guest Author’s simplified definition). For example–I can see taking the position that “I can’t go to church because I have a theology exam to study for” isn’t ironic–because there is no appearance clearly contraposed to the reality. But if the sentence were “I chose to study for my theology exam rather than go to church,” I think there clearly is a difference between the appearance (I am a devout person who values religious practice) and the reality (I am willing to forego religious practice in the pursuit of good grades in my religious studies program). So I have a problem with putting the question up for popular vote.

    It occurs to me to wonder–granted that in fact the examples given do not constitute irony. What are they? They all involve a recognizable cognitive disconnect. What should we call them?

    Oh, and Guest Author–unless your coworker managed to combine her college course of study with a shortened high school program, she is almost certainly not a girl. Unless, of course, as a matter of personal style you routinely use “boy” as your preferred term for males over 18.

  • Daniel Scocco


    I don’t think that Facebook sentence is ironic. Facebook might be boring and useless, and yet be the most popular social network around. Hence if the author of the video want some exposure, the best place to post it would still be Facebook.

    In other words, Facebook being popular doesn’t imply it can’t be boring and useless.

  • Kathryn

    Daniel–by posting the video on Facebook in order to gain exposure, the author may not be contradicting the claim that Facebook is boring, but definitely IS contradicting the claim that Facebook is useless. That is the disconnect between appearance and reality in that case.

  • Levi Montgomery

    I think it is fully ironic that someone would offer you a Thanksgiving lunch on the one day of the year that your are most likely to have your own Thanksgiving leftovers in your brown paper bag, yes.

    And I find irony in all of the examples given, also.

  • Geetanjali

    Hi , can you please confirm if the sentence mentioned in the beginning ” the procrastinator’s meeting has been postponed – is this an irony or not ?I think it is ….

  • Terry A McNeil

    I do believe your friends your friends remarks have both an ironic and sarcastic touch. The appearance of giving thanks for the end of the high stress period of organizing to give thanks borders towards irony.

    Such are words. They are our slaves and masters ironically?


  • abby

    to thebluebird11: How ironic! You just said “…I will continue to avoid using the word.” And then you used it in the next sentence…

  • Michael Corey

    In Australia and Britain, a commonly-held notion – or prejudice really – is that Americans have an impoverished sense of irony. Without meaning to be rude, I wonder how much truth there is in this. And how much does a cultural trait like this might contribute to the difficulty in grasping the word’s meaning? (I suspect little and that most Americans probably do know irony when they hear it, even if they’re not always able to label it as such. Equally, Aussies and Brits can be just as ignorant. Pot. Kettle. Black.)

  • Sarah

    Michael Corey—I have you covered in that my mother was Australian and my father British. In my experience, my father had a heightened sense of irony. Maybe that’s why I laugh so hard at Monty Python. My mother didn’t get it at all. My father saw the ridiculous in everything, and the contradiction in ALL human endeavors. Most people just do not recognize how much they contradict themselves daily. Thus the popularity of Ricky Gervais and the Office.

  • Garrison

    It seems that irony is the incongruity between an expected outcome and the actual outcome.

    In no way is irony related to or similar to sarcasm.

    Irony can be humorous or it can be tragic. For example, it is a tragic irony that Hamlet, thinking his father is hiding behind the curtain runs his sword through him, only to learn that it is the father of the woman he was about to marry. Thus, finally finding the courage to act, his action is grossly misdirected and he kills an innocent who would have been his father-in-law; a man of whom he is most fond. This tragedy is compounded when his betrothed goes mad and eventually kills herself.

    All of this because he made an assumption about who was hiding behind the curtain. Even four hundred years ago they knew what happens when you assume.

    Shakespeare knew irony very well and used it to great effect.

    Saying “great weather we are having today” when it is raining cats and dogs seems to me more like sarcasm than irony. However, commenting on how beautiful the weather is half an hour before a tornado rips through your neighborhood would be ironic.

    In the first case the comment is intentionally opposed to reality and in the second case an expectation is set and then a far different reality results. This is a subtle difference, but I think it is what distinguishes sarcasm from irony. In sarcasm a person makes a statement intentionally contrary to reality, usually for the sake of dark humor, and in irony a person acts on a belief that they later discover is mistaken.

    Interesting topic and something one does not think about too often. Excellent food for thought!

  • thebluebird11

    @M.Corey and Garrison:
    It’s OK with me if Aussies and Brits think we state-siders have an impoverished sense of irony. Personally I don’t feel an emptiness in my soul just because I’m still not clear on the concept. I understand sarcasm when I hear it and can dish it too. I understand tragedy and comedy (and have been on both ends of both). To take it further and talk about tragic irony, specifically the Hamlet example, was very interesting. I definitely comprehend the tragedy there, and I see the irony beyond that. However, I know that people call many things “ironic” when in fact they are NOT. These things are unfortunate, or tragic, or funny, or incorrect, or something else…even, as I said before, just a case of a misnomer.
    We studied Shakespeare (a Brit!) in high school, but you know how that is…we’d all rather have been gossiping over french fries and diet soda than studying The Bard. So most of it went over our heads (or perhaps in one ear and out the other), and today I probably could not even tell you a single plot. So maybe the Brits (and Aussies?) have mastered irony better than we Americans. They’ve certainly had a longer go at it! 🙂

  • Lawrence Miller

    Dear guest author,

    It is definitely ironic that a guest author wrote a long-winding post about what is and is not ironic, while making it reasonably apparent that they do not have a clear idea of which is which and what is what, when it comes to what is and what is not ironic. (I almost choked on that mouthful.) Hmm, I wonder: It all seems a tad ironic to me.

    Perhaps it is best for their sake that the guest author did not reveal their name. In my opinion, the person is clearly an intelligent person who got caught up in a meandering warren of the meanings of ironic.

    I must say, the same happens to me sometimes, but it usually happens in the dank, dark, secret recesses of my mind and I choose not make my befuddlement public. You all will be the judge of whether I have managed to avoid such a pitfall here.

    It seems to me YourDictionary.com does an exceptional job of handling the sundry meanings of ironic in a concise manner.

    Here is wishing a Merry Christmas and a Holy Nativity of Christ feast to all.

  • Lawrence Miller

    Mensch Myer, vergessen!

  • Peter

    Oh, and Guest Author–unless your coworker managed to combine her college course of study with a shortened high school program, she is almost certainly not a girl. Unless, of course, as a matter of personal style you routinely use “boy” as your preferred term for males over 18.

    In Middle English, the term “girl” was applied to children (of both sexes). In modern English, it’s become limited to females, but only secondarily to children, unlike “boy”. Adult women often refer to themselves as “girls”, even in their nineties (and, in a more limited context, to adult males as “boys”, e.g., a woman might say her husband is having “a night out with the boys” without implying he’s a pædophile…but you’re less likely hear a male say that).

    What’s supposed to be magic about 18, though? I’d stop calling females “girls” in the “child” sense long before they were 18…

  • ApK


    F’in-A , Bubba!

  • Kathryn

    Peter–your points are valid. However, the generation which referred to itself as “girls” into the grey-hair ages is now all pretty much grey haired. I’m at the bottom end of that generation, but I do not refer to myself in that manner, and I would find it deeply offensive if a male colleague were to refer to me as a “smart girl.” As you almost certainly recognize, this is a by-product of the struggle that changed perceptions of gender roles in the 60s and 70s. “Girl” was routinely used, by men, to refer to any adult woman in a business setting, while “boy” was used to refer to an adult male only in a handful of idioms such as the one you reference.

    I use 18 as the cut-off because that is the age of majority in most states. Between the ages of roughly 12 and 18, however, it can be difficult to know how to refer to someone of either gender. Most people would not refer to a high-school junior as a woman–or a man.

    In any event, my point is that if you use “girl” to describe a female in a given situation, but do not use “boy” to describe a male in the same situation, it is–however unintentionally–a put-down.

  • ApK

    This is getting well off topic, but:
    As with “ma’am” which was discussed in a recent blog entry, I think it’s important to be aware of the possible negative connotation of calling any adult a “girl,” and you’ve made it clear that it is a put-down to YOU, but I know for a fact that it is not universally so by any stretch, and I doubt it would read as a put down in this context to the vast majority of the audience.


  • Kathryn

    ApK: Well, yes, it is OT at this point, so I’ll say this and then shut up, regardless of any response. I disagree profoundly with your perception that most women in the workplace would not find it a putdown to be described by a colleague as “a smart girl.” Admittedly, we don’t know the gender of the colleague, and just as an adult male African-Americans might find it less offensive to be referred to as a boy if the speaker were of African origin, women can probably stomach being called “girl” by other women better than by men. But there are plenty of us to whom it is pejorative regardless of who uses it.

    On reflection, I realize this may be one of those “think about your audience” issues. The use of such a term in what should–given the nature of the venue–be a carefully written, thoughtfully edited, post in which each word and phrase is given some attention before reaching the final draft detracts substantially, to my mind, from the credibility and reliability of what follows. And I do not believe I am alone in that.

  • Lawrence Miller

    Hog wash! Who cares, Kathryn.

    I am finding fewer and fewer people are concerned enough about being called a “girl,” or a “boy” for that matter, to exhibit such a gross display of humanistic correctness as is evidenced in your comment; other, that is, than some of the feminists among us, and their concern, where it exists, is based on a concern for their self-worth.

    Indeed, why, as long as the terms were used in a spirit of camaraderie, would someone take it as an affront worthy of note to be called a “girl” or a “boy,” where it not for a deficiency in their view of their own self-worth. Such would constitute a self-inflicted insult.

    Fortunately, our society seems finally to be on the way to healing the wounds inflicted by [in your words] “the struggle that changed perceptions of gender roles in the 60s and 70s.” The narrow view of the gender rolls of those earlier times are thankfully changed forever as a result of that struggle, despite the sometimes beastly, hurtful acts committed in its name. Now we are thankfully in the midst of a course correction—historically, such course corrections always follow—that allows men and women to assume their emancipated gender rolls as granted by their Creator. Such course corrections are a part of the natural flow of societal growth brought about over time, due in large measure to the insights of people of faith; that is to say, people who aspire to a higher ideal than they can hope to attain sans the aid of a higher power.

    After all is said and done, girls and women, and boys and men, have their natural rolls to play as absolute equals in life; e.g., men inseminate and women bear the inseminated fruit of their wombs. The roll of women in this case is far superior to that of men. Men do play a superior roll in some aspects of life, but it remains that if all men were to die tomorrow, women could and surely would regenerate the race of man (or mankind or Homo sapiens, as you will) for the good of the world.

    If you have read this far, Kathryn, you now know this retort to your thesis is not a put-down of women, nor is it a put-down of men: both genders are absolute equals in life with absolutely equal rights.

  • Garrison

    To All,

    Perhaps it is ironic that a discussion of irony should devolve into a vacuous argument over the current state of politically correct think-speak.

    From now on I propose we dispense with gender exclusive pronouns and refer to everyone inclusively as “she/he/it” which can be commonly accepted in the abbreviated form of: s/h/it.

    Problem solved.

  • thebluebird11

    @ Garrison,
    I am SO down with that LOL
    Where were your pithy solutions when the post from a week or some ago, about the phrase “that’s so gay,” devolved into a message board for gay dating or something!!

  • Michael Corey

    @Garrison: You sir are a card.

  • Peter

    Kathryn: I don’t think it’s only “grey-hairs”; my sister was telling me a story about “a girl at work” last week, etc. She’s 38 (my sister, not the co-worker). This is not in the US…but I saw a US TV show recently where a 30-something responded to the suggestion that she wouldn’t be able to do something with “Why? Because I’m a girl?”

    Lawrence: *speechless* (I’m not sure whether you’re insane or joking, but either way it’s in bad taste)

  • Peter Gammon

    When I was in my late twenties felt totally patronised by my boss calling me a lad. Some of us get over our fragile egos, and some do not. At fifty three I wish more people would call me lad or boy and cease calling me “an old coot”!!!

  • Lawrence Miller

    Peter, I can only surmise from your vacuous comment that humanistic correctness is turning your mind into an inane waste land. I don’t allow your good mind to succumb to such malevolent forces.

  • Lawrence Miller

    Whoops, I meant to say:

    Peter, I can only surmise from your vacuous comment that humanistic correctness is turning your mind into an inane waste land. Don’t allow your good mind to succumb to such malevolent forces.

  • Precise Edit


    Here’s what I use when describing irony:
    1. The truth is different than what is perceived.
    2. The outcome is different than what is expected.

    Kudos for the Hamlet reference. Hurrah for Shakespeare!

  • thebluebird11

    @Precise Edit: This whole subject is still clear as mud to me. I am no expert, but it would seem to me that just because truth is different from perception, and/or outcome doesn’t meet expectations, does not mean something is ironic. There must be some other twist that makes an ordinary misperception, or an unexpected outcome, take on the cloak of irony.
    Again, I see it clearly with the Hamlet example, because in this case, he killed the person he would LEAST want to kill. So, just because someone wants, or is led to expect, sunny weather for his wedding, doesn’t mean that rain on his wedding day is ironic. It might be messy, inconvenient, annoying, or any number of other things (including perhaps a bad omen), but it is not ironic. (Sorry, Alanis).
    Precise Edit, you are usually on the mark with your comments, so see if you can fine-tune your definitions for me!

  • Precise Edit

    I’ll try, but be warned: I’m not feeling very literate at the moment. Still…

    The Hamlet scene is not an example of irony because he killed the person he least desired to kill. What makes it ironic is that he thought he was killing someone else. His perception of who was behind the curtain was incorrect, and the action he took led to a consequence he didn’t intend.

    From the Princeton word web:

    1. “humorously sarcastic or mocking”
    This is often considered comedic irony, which is making a statement that is obviously not true in order to convey a specific meaning. Thus, it’s irony when someone comments on the beautiful day when, in fact, the weather is miserable. The message being conveyed is contrary to the statement being made.

    2. “characterized by often poignant difference or incongruity between what is expected and what actually is”
    This is often considered tragic irony, which is expecting one thing and getting another. This is the Hamlet example.

    Perhaps you are struggling not with understanding “irony” but with integrating these definitions with your existing, personal definition of irony, created through exposure to the use (and misuse) of the word irony. But if that’s the case, you are definately in good company–And I don’t just mean Alanis’s.

  • thebluebird11

    @ Precise Edit:
    “What makes it ironic is that he thought he was killing someone else. His perception of who was behind the curtain was incorrect, and the action he took led to a consequence he didn’t intend.”
    Yes, exactly. And I understand “tragic irony.”

    However, someone saying “We’re having lovely weather” when in fact we are not, is sarcasm, not irony. I’m sure there is a difference between the two. Even saying “We’re having lovely weather” and then getting hit by a tornado 30 minutes later doesn’t seem to warrant the term irony, to me. It seems, you know, unfortunate, accidental, tragic, coincidental, or something, but not really ironic.

    Maybe it’s irony when the ramifications of the [unexpected/undesired] outcome are really significant, far-reaching, etc. I mean, let’s take the tornado example. If in fact someone blithely stated “Lovely weather we’re having,” and in fact was ignorant that a tornado was approaching (especially if others were aware of this fact), and this person performed some action based on his ignorance of the actual fact that the tornado was approaching; let’s say he went and closed on a house just prior to the tornado hitting, and then this person ended up dead, financially ruined, house blown away, etc., well, I can see irony in that.

  • Bobbi

    A pity, the movement that was supposed to liberate women turns them into prisoners of petty arguments over whether they are girls, ladies, women or womyn. A tragic irony?

  • thebluebird11

    @Bobbi: Ummm…no.

  • Lawrence Miller

    Bobbi, well said.

  • Rocker

    Well, I guess the irony of this page is how many don’t understand irony at all. Serving Thanksgiving lunch the day after Thanksgiving is in NO WAY ironic. It’s just because they couldn’t do it on the day itself because it’s a holiday. Of course it would make more sense to serve it the day before, but really, who’s counting?

    Uploading video onto FB about how boring and useless FB is: not ironic unless… the video itself is useless and boring.

    Calling big dog tiny: ironic. Much the same effect can be had by calling a small dog Killer or Tyson.

    Missing church to study for theology test: I think we are agreed this is not ironic, just poor planning.

    Stepping in puddle after mocking others: definitely not ironic, just coincidence. A lot of people confuse irony with coincidence, like the football commentators who tell us it’s ironic that a player scores against a club he used to play for. NO!

    There is an Irish comedian called Ed Byrne who made his early career based on using the Alanis Morrisette song as illustration that Americans didn’t understand irony. The irony of that was: she’s Canadian.

  • ApK

    >>Uploading video onto FB about how boring and useless FB is: not ironic unless… the video itself is useless and boring.<<

    Sorry, whoever you are, but you saying it doesn't make it so. We've given the reason it's ironic, why do you say it's not?

  • Michael

    Something is ironic when, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, it happens in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causes ‘wry amusement’ as a result.

    I would think the first element is easy to detect, whilst the second may be a little harder and more subjective.

    @Rocker: This isn’t irony, but I’ve followed Ed Byrne for several years and would give him a little more credit than to say he ‘made his early career’ on the Morisette joke, but your point stands otherwise. He’s a funny, mad bugger in any case.

  • thebluebird11

    @Rocker: Agreed that Thanksgiving dinner for lunch the next day is not ironic. Agreed that a video about how boring/useless FB is has to be a boring/useless video in order to be ironic. (Sorry, ApK, we will have to agree to disagree, I guess). Calling a big dog Tiny or a small dog Tyson, not ironic; there is a word for that, and it is “oxymoron.” Or perhaps, in the case of a small dog, wishful thinking, the Napoleon complex, you know? But not irony. I personally thought that the missing church/theology test was kind of ironic, but if it was just poor planning, well, whatever. Stepping in the puddle after making fun of someone who stepped in a puddle is just desserts, fate, karma, what-goes-around-comes-around, plus/minus irony. I LMAO when I read your comment about Alanis being Canadian; now that IS ironic, eh?
    OK: Irony to me is: A cardiologist dying of a heart attack, a dentist who wears dentures, a neurologist who has a stroke…a lawyer who gets sued, I don’t know…stuff along those lines…

  • Gareth Bourne

    Writing a song about irony, which supposedly contains examples of irony, but which aren’t ironic, is the very definition of irony.

    It is tragic irony, or poetic justice. If something couldn’t be construed as poetic justice (depending on how dark your sense of humour is) then it’s also unlikely to be ironic.

  • Angie

    I read all these comments on here, and everyone keeps confusing me with what is ironic and what is not.

    (I am researching on examples of irony for my english.)

    If anyone could help me, it would be greatly appreciated.

  • ApK

    >>If anyone could help me, it would be greatly appreciated.<<

    Obviously, we can't.

  • abby

    How ironic! On a page with an article on irony and so many intelligent people commenting on it…and we still can’t help Angie!

  • Anton Clarke

    Manasvini example is sarcasm not irony. If you say that ‘someone is being ironic’ then you don’t understand the difference between sarcasm and irony. The word ‘ironic’ refers to a situation or juxtaposition, not the act of conveying information of such. Such an utterance would always be sarcastic if the intention was to be ‘ironic’ – Yes, I know it’s ironic I would use the term ‘ironic’ as an example of sarcasm, that’s the point. 🙂

    My experience of living in USA leads me to believe the general populace didn’t understand sarcasm until quite recently, and even now it only seems understood by regular viewers of PBS – See any episode of House MD for a masterclass on sarcasm.

    As a Brit living in Austin, Texas I quickly learned people here think I am being mean bordering on rude when in fact I am being humorously sarcastic. Maybe only Brits and Aussies do that.

  • thebluebird11

    @Anton: Yeah, we Americans don’t understand sarcasm at all. Isn’t that ironic? No, actually that was humorously sarcastic. I wasn’t aware that this type of thing was limited to certain continents.
    First of all, apparently YOU don’t understand the difference between sarcasm and irony. You can relay an ironic story and be completely devoid of sarcasm, and vice versa.
    Second of all, if people think you’re being mean and rude, perhaps it’s because you ARE being mean and rude. I’m pretty sure I don’t know you, so I can’t say for sure. An anecdote that comes to mind is the story of a friend of mine, who, if she saw someone wearing some garish outfit (e.g., a basket of fruit on her head), she would say, sotto voce, “Damn! I forgot to wear my fruit basket today!” Had she said this so that the fruit-basket-wearer could have heard her, that would have been mean. Had she said it to her face, that would have been mean AND rude. Had she then been required to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and wear a fruit basket on HER head the following week, THAT, my friend, IMHO, is irony. Had she perhaps been killed when the fruit basket caused her to topple over and be run over by a float, that would have been tragic irony. That’s how I, as an American, see it anyway. Feel free to humorously sarcastically shoot my opinion down.

  • ApK


    This comment thread is getting a tad wearisome with the growing number of people (often from across the pond, oddly enough) who think their own narrow understanding of irony is the be-all and end-all on the topic.

    Still waiting for some one to explain to me why they think the Facebook example thing is NOT ironic, rather than just telling me I’m wrong.

    bird, these folks also seem to missing the idea that, even if you choose to ignore the m-w definition definition of irony that is remarkably similar to sarcasm, one still might use irony to express sarcasm, and that does not mean we..uh…they…are confusing the two.

  • thebluebird11

    sigh. ApK, I have read and re-read the M-W definitions of sarcasm and irony, and I am the first to admit (scroll w-a-a-a-a-ay up in this thread) that I do not exactly understand what is or isn’t ironic, at least in the examples given. I disagreed with that poll where people said which ones they thought were ironic or not. IIRC, I think I agree with you that the FB thing was ironic. Perhaps similar to beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, irony is in the ears of the hearer. Also, to make matters more confusing, it seems to me that the M-W definition of irony has it pretty much synonymous with sarcasm. To settle the issue once and for all, I’d agree to go with that, but I do realize that there are differences (as in my previous post, stating that irony and sarcasm can exist separately, and are not necessarily the same, nor are they always interchangeable). I’m not going to get my dander up because some Brit sojourning in Texas thinks that all Americans are dolts. And actually, Austin is a really nice college town with intelligent people and relaxing surroundings…if Anton finds these people too ignorant for his liking, he can, you know, leave. As another friend of mine often says, “There are 49 other states.” OK, make it 48…don’t come to Florida. You won’t like it here either! LOL.

  • ApK

    bird, I meant to be criticizing the Brits who were saying all Americans were dolts, and to be agreeing with you, and adding to your previous response to Anton. I think I may have my made intent somewhat incomprehensible. Sorry!

    To sum up: Some Americans do understand irony, some don’t, some Brits do, some don’t, and none of us appear to know for sure which group we or other people are in.

    I thought I did, and am hoping to find out for sure.


  • thebluebird11

    @ApK: OK, you put a smile on my face 🙂 Perhaps ironic is that Anton used “House” as an example of masterclass of sarcasm…seeing as how Hugh Laurie is British. So obviously he perfected his act on the other side of the pond. Another poster (way up) made reference to Monty Python, and for whatever reason I neglected to address that in any of my previous posts. That was hands down the funniest show I’ve ever seen in my life, I saw them live when they were here, I own the videos…and I can recite the “Dead Parrot” skit almost word for word LOL. Ah, those blokes could deadpan like nobody’s business. I miss them!

    BTW, @Gareth Bourne (posted Jan 30), if you equate irony with poetic justice, I totally get it. I can live with that definition, works for me.

  • Kathy

    Is it ironic that I looked up “irony” to gain a better understanding of it and ended up even more confused?

  • Terry McNeil

    Kathy what a wonderful epitaph for this elusive definition that should be ironically so clear and easy to understand. I believe?

    It reminds me what my Grandma once quietly told me. “Most people see the dictionary as a book. My son, rather know it as the door to the endless possibilities of universes….Then in turn, you will see its key”

    I liked talking to Grandma

  • Terry

    Ok I did not read all 50 responses… please don’t hate me

    But it IS ironic that Alanis wrote a song about irony with examples that were not irony……

    am i correct ?

  • venqax

    Wow! I must confess that I spend so much energy fighting misuse of begging the question that this one usually goes by me. I think part of the problem, as shown here by the length and indeterminateness of the posts is at least 2 things. 1) the meaning of irony has been fungible for a long time, and is maybe used differently by different “areas”. Many of the examples given of specific “types” like tragic irony, dramatic irony, Socratic irony etc. are not only distinct, but are not what I would think of as irony at all in a “general” sense, rather than misfortune, double-entendre, or sarcasm. And yes, there seems to be a confusion or confounding of meaning between irony and sarcasm. 2) The dictionary definitions aren’t very helpful, for a variety of reasons, many related to number 1.

    I haven’t really investigated this, so my position is nebulous. When I think of irony, trying to be careful in usage, I usually think of something that not only produces on unintended effect, but one that is specifically related to or the opposite of the intended one. So there is a kind of recursive relationship. E.g., “I put the keys in my pocket so I wouldn’t lose them. But my pocket had a hole in it.” I would think “irony” because what I in fact did —lose the keys—was a direct result of my attempt not to do that very thing. “I commented on the nice day and then it started raining” would not be ironic at all. My comment didn’t cause it to rain. “Bob lost all his valuables when his safe was stolen”. That would seem ironic to me, because putting something in a safe at least implies that getting it stolen is something you are trying to avoid. “He had a heart attack jogging to the health food store”. Double irony?

    The Hamlet example, then, would not really be ironic, just coincidental and sad. He didn’t think he was protecting his victim. However, I understand that it is an example of “tragic irony” as the term is used in literature studies. Missing church for a theology test wouldn’t be strictly ironic by my definition, I guess, but close by association, like “I was too sick to keep my doctor’s appointment”. Don’t know what to call that…

    Heller came up with the term Catch 22 to cover a specific juxtaposition that there didn’t seem to be any other term for. Maybe more terms are needed in this arena?

  • jim

    Garrison wrote: “In no way is irony related to or similar to sarcasm…”

    Sorry, but words used to express something other than their literal intention is irony.

  • Allison

    ugh, this whole debate makes my head hurt. i’ve read an entire book that has tons of irony, this post, and a bunch of responses, but i don’t see the whole “no irony” in any of the mentions. is it because they’re all ironic examples or no? someone please help!

  • oilskin

    @venqax I think you’re right. The causal/ intentional aspect seems important. In your example, the person’s putting her keys in her pocket might be truly described in various ways, including “she lost her keys”. But her action isn’t intentional under that description; indeed, she exactly intended *not* to lose her keys. Yet, by that very action, she in fact lost them.

  • oilskin

    Okay, so perhaps a central usage of “irony” requires that two conditions be satisfied:

    (1) The action said to be ironic isn’t intentional under the description that makes it ironic; and
    (2) The description that makes the action ironic is somehow opposite to the description under which that action is, in fact, intentional.

    E.g., A person puts her keys in her pocket, and thereby loses her keys due to the fact that there is a hole in her pocket. So this person does something that can be truly described in at least two ways: (a) “she put her keys in her pocket (to avoid losing them)”, and (b) “she lost her keys”. But only one of these is a true description of her intentional action, i.e., (a) “she put her keys in her pocket (to avoid losing them)”. After all, that’s what she intended to do. So condition (1) is satisfied: the action said to be ironic isn’t intentional under the description that makes it ironic. Meanwhile, condition (2) is also satisfied, since the description that makes the action ironic is somehow opposite to the description under which the action is, in fact, intentional. After all, by doing exactly what she did, she lost her keys. And that’s exactly what she was trying *not* to do.

  • Iwan Williams

    I recently had a long conversation with friends about the concept/definition of irony and we came up with something along these lines:
    “Irony is when the purpose of an object/person/thing is the opposite of the situation it is put in and/or causes.”

    Now I know this is probably full of holes but I think it covers the (perhaps incorrect) most common use of irony.

    This is it put into practice with a common example:

    Purpose of ambulance- to prevent death
    Opposite of preventing death- causing death
    Therefore, if a person was hit by an ambulance this would be ironic (?)

    Could somebody verify this or explain where I am wrong 😛

  • CyanFox

    I think it’s ironic that an article about irony doesn’t have its own ironic twist. But then – giving the topic a straight explanation is by itself a form of irony. But if the lack of irony in the article is in fact its own irony, then will making it intentionally ironic make it any less ironic?


  • dave

    Iwan, I think you are correct here – putting up a safety feature only for it to cause harm, playing it safe only for the safe option to go more awry etc. all add to irony.

    The Alanis Morisette problems can help. They are all just annoyances. (a better name for the song maybe :))
    There is no irony in it raining on your wedding day unless (thanks Ed Byrne) you are marrying a weather man and he chose the day – even more so if he studied it carefully and picked the only rainy day in a beautiful month.
    It has to do with unlikelihoods in which the forseen consequence of a choice actually have the opposite effect in a humerous way.

    The chuch/theology exam example would be ironic if, say, the person had previously claimed smugly that ‘if you do your duty to God by praising Him at church he will always look after you’ and then received the news that her Theology exam was on the same day as a church service.

    It ties in with karma quite nicely. To claim that people who are disbled must have done something awful in their life to deserve such punishment and then be crippled yourself is ironic – as to utter the statement can be seen as a terrible thing to do if you take a different outlook to the way fate and luck are dealt out.

    Not being able to define it in strict terms makes it all the more pleasant..there are some things that when we see them, even though we cannot easliy define the term (such as the weatherman example) we would nearly all be able to say…that is definitely ironic. I like that about it…it shows a holistic understanding of language use.

  • Mike

    I remember reading one definition of irony that stuck with me as perhaps the best. I think it might was Fowler’s (for those that know the name). What’s great about this conception of irony is that it is simple and provides a unifying theme for all three of Merriam-Webster’s definitions (in the article above). I am of course paraphrasing what Fowler said below.

    Irony can be understood by imagining first that there are two audiences. In an ironic situation, something is said (or happens) whose significance is understood differently by each audience. The first audience is ignorant, and can only appreciate the event on superficial or literal grounds. Irony arises by assuming a second audience that is “in the know”, which understands the deeper significance of the event.

    The link to “dramatic irony” is rather obvious here. Typically, the characters in the play represent the first audience and those watching the play are the second.

    “Socratic irony” follows the same principle. Socrates’ way of taking on a pretense of ignorance to expose weaknesses in his opponents’ arguments was a strategy his opponents were often ignorant of, but something his students, who were presumably also in the room, knew well. Here the students represent the second audience, watching their master lure his opponents into a trap.

    Webster’s second definition: “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning” follows along similar lines. Sometimes only the person speaking is in this second audience. Hopefully others in the room will catch on to what is being said though, otherwise the irony is merely for the speaker’s enjoyment.

    Finally, there is the “irony of the Fates”. I seem to remember Fowler expressing skepticism as to whether this is indeed irony, but this covers the “stepping in a puddle” example and those like it. Here, one must imagine the Fates as the second audience (the Fates know the destiny of each man). You don’t know that you will step in the puddle when you make fun of the first guy (making you the first audience). The Fates are watching, meanwhile, and they know you will eventually step in the same puddle yourself. Fowler’s skepticism might be warranted if you buy into the idea that “irony” only comes about when the second audience is present. Since the Fates are not real, the associated irony is not real either. What is perhaps a better term for our puddle incident is “poetic justice” rather than “irony”.

  • Mike

    A more concise definition of the one I gave above:

    IRONY is found where there are two audiences watching a situation unfold: one is “ignorant”, only seeing the superficial; the other is “in the know” and appreciates a deeper significance.

    You can look at the rest of my explanation above to see how this definition gets fleshed out in various circumstances we know as irony.

  • wwfan

    To understand irony (I’d argue it is impossible to define) you need to return to Socrates. Prior to Socratic irony, irony was simply ‘sham humility’, pretending to be less than you were in order to achieve an advantage over your opponent. It was generally a term of abuse.

    However, once Socrates used irony to challenge the subjective arguments of the Sophists, it became a form of sophisticated thought and rhetoric, usages that solidified during the Roman Empire. The key question is whether Socrates knew the ‘absolute truth’ and was using irony to guide others towards it or was ‘absolutely just’ and employed irony to ensure that all men were treated most justly.

    The former definition places irony as a constructive tool, linking it to objective, rationalist, empirical thought. If a knowledge claim can be made absurd through the use of irony, then it cannot be absolute truth and the journey of discovery must continue. In real terms, this form of irony is employed to undermine a knowledge claim from a competing perspective (as in the two audiences example). Whereas Socrates perspective was one of ‘ignorance’, the more common perspective is of a competing knowledge claim, from which one ironically undermines the opposing claim.

    In these situations, one audience is always more powerful than the other. The powerful audience claims to know the truth, whereas the less powerful undermines it, employing ironic speech to do so when in the presence of the first. If the powerful audience is indirectly lead into recognising their position is partial not absolute and thereby changing it to accommodate the other, then the irony is effective. Until then, ironic speech is a required communicative device for the less powerful audience and irony the only possible stance against powerful truth claims.

    The second definition places irony as an ethical position, suggesting all knowledge claims can be undermined and that only through seeing an issue from the multiple perspectives that irony opens up can a human being be treated justly. In this sense, there is nothing but irony as no truth can ever escape subjectivity and irony is thus the most ethical stance to pursue. However, this opes up all kinds of problems regarding nihilism and despair (irony offers nothing of any meaning to take the place of anything it undermines).

    There are two major schools of thought surrounding these issues, which can be loosely described as American and Germanic. The American school is pragmatic and looks at how irony in action builds discursive communities (a specific way of understanding the world) and excluded victims (those it undermines). The Germanic School grapples with the constructive/destructive nature of irony (is it a tool of knowledge/truth or a nihilistic position that undermines everything?).

    Verbal irony is a method of illustrating these positions in everyday speech. For example, it is a standard belief in the Western world that ‘sunny weather is good’. A dripping wet man walking into a room saying ‘great weather we are having’ is thus speaking ironically. His ironic speech also draws attention to his wetness and his having expected one thing but experienced another, the imperfect human condition. However, sunny weather is not always good. A South Australian farmer walking into a room of colleagues in mid-summer in the same condition is likely to be speaking literally, as the rain is going to be vital for good crop production.

    Even such a banal statement illustrates the complexity of irony. It challenges the belief that ‘sunny weather = good weather’, adheres a farmer to his discursive community (and detaches him from the beach goers in the same state, who want that sun) and references the imperfect human condition (had the man known it was going to rain, he’d have brought his umbrella) which illustrates dramatic irony.

    If the man had been observed leaving his house without an umbrella by a working meteorologist, he would have known the man was going to get wet (the knowing audience of the situation). However, the man (the unknowing audience and the victim of this hypothetically observed dramatic irony) looks up to the sky and sees only blue, thereby predicting he will have a pleasant walk and deciding not to take his umbrella, even though the hypothetical observer knows it will be otherwise. If he then catches pneumonia and dies, then the irony is truly tragic (see Oedipus Rex for a much better example, when the audience knows he is unknowingly condemning himself when cursing the man who killed his father).

    The ‘observer’ of dramatic irony is often ‘God’ (the knowing audience must be elevated, seeing more than the unknowing, so ‘God’ is the perfect example). The Bible is another excellent example of dramatic irony, with its characters moved hither and thither by God’s will, with only the knowing reader understanding why it is happening.

    The example of the Facebook video is an excellent example of how irony can result in nihilistic despair. In order to illustrate how a concept is boring and useless, one is forced to illustrate it through its own form, thereby making it interesting and useful, or by doing it so boringly and uselessly that nobody takes the critique seriously.

    The dog example is ironic but banal, a simple usage of ironic speech. The church example would only be ironic if the preacher’s sermon provided more help for the theology essay than the study did. The puddle example can be seen as cosmic/dramatic irony if it is being observed by a second, elevated audience (i.e. if we were watching it happen and predicted it, then it would be ironic, especially so if the fun-maker got wetter than his friend, or, if the friend could see that the fun-maker was stepping backwards into a bigger puddle as he was laughing). As Mike made explicit, if you believe in an omnipresent God, then it would always be ironic.

    Sarcasm is simply an ironic speech act with an intent to wound.

  • cindy

    My 9 y/o asked me what ironic meant. I told him I really do not know. He looked up the word and gave up. I too never use the word. I really would like to know the proper definition. Sorry, guest author, but I’m still confused.

  • Elizabeth

    Okay, is it just me, or is it ironic that on a website devoted to people who wish to use the English language properly…not ONE person noticed or commented on the fact that Lawrence failed to use the proper spelling for ‘role’?

    Hie thee to a dictionary, Lawrence. ‘Roll’ is incorrect. I realize we’re covering irony and not homonyms (or homophones) but you could at least get THAT simple word correct.

    The rest of your rant wasn’t worth commenting upon, however.

  • JennyOH

    The best explanation I ever heard was in senior English:

    “If a man is hit by a truck and dies, it’s a tragedy.
    If a diabetic man is hit by a truck carrying sugar and dies, it’s a darkly humorous coincidence.
    If a diabetic man is hit by a truck carrying insulin and dies, it’s ironic [i.e. insulin should save this man’s life but was in reality the cause of his death].”

  • Alex

    @ Elizabeth

    Not ironic at all.

    a) I’m sure other people noticed that as well but didn’t bother to point it out

    b) You can’t generalize and say every one is coming here to use the English language properly. The majority is coming here to learn about irony.

  • mikala

    example of irony your look like pretty your like a christmas tree

  • Sloan

    When thinking of irony, I’m reminded of the scene in _Dr. Strangelove_ where General Turgidson and the Russian ambassador start to scuffle, and President Muffley admonishes them by saying, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!” 🙂

  • James


    Agreed 100%.

    “Uploading video onto FB about how boring and useless FB is: not ironic unless… the video itself is useless and boring.”

    “Stepping in puddle after mocking others: definitely not ironic, just coincidence. A lot of people confuse irony with coincidence.”


  • Oculus

    I think that i just got much more confused after reading everything…. lol

  • Tim mears

    All of the examples of irony were in fact irony.

    more examples: Ironic humor: Take my wife. Please!

    Got a new car fror my wife the other day. Best trade i ever made!

    I missed the Hamlet discussion but here is another Shakespeare: Tragic irony:

    ‘Til Burnham Wood doth come to Dunsinane” The trees actually do come.

    The ironic twist at the end of a short story is the heart of the short story genre. For example, the ending of “The Gift of the Magi”

    In some of the cases discussed, I believe the irony has to do with the intent of the writer.

  • Bo

    Okay, let me put an ironic phrase that i think everyone will understand. (this is not really my life, just an example) My dad is a 5th generation soldier…I am a pacifist, or maybe this, You give money to a hobo and tell him to go buy all the beer he wants, and he comes back with BurgerKing. Irony is not sarcasm no matter how closely related they are. Sarcasm is generally being rude, irony is something that no one expects to happen, like growing up in a family of soldiers and becoming a pacifist, or a hobo doing the exact opposite of what you intend.

    OOOO, I thought of another one…A BLACK GUY BEING ALLERGIC TO CHICKEN…(if you find this offending i am sorry, in truth i have a very high respect for black people)

  • jim white

    Let’s say some hunter goes to Africa and manages to finally kill a jaguar. Once he is home he is crossing the street on his way to a taxidermist to have the jaguar stuffed. As he is crossing the street he gets hit by a car and dies. If the car is a Jaguar, then that’s ironic. Irony deals with something that is strangely justified or strangely unjustified.

  • Repn714

    Just wanted to comment someone I don’t know who, said that sarcasm is meaness disquised as humor. Therefore it is intended, whereas irony is not.

  • Repn714

    Also, it is ironic that people who are afraid of being alone, as in relational often find themselves alone. Because nobody can put up with they’re clinginess. Just recently divorced my wife because she was hiding
    money from me incase things didn’t work out between us. Well, I didn’t want to be married to someone like that. How ironic is it that things didn’t wwork out?

  • Eric

    It’s ironic how so many people confuse irony with sarcasm.

  • Sparkly Dangers

    @ Tim Mears: There is a word for the examples you provided-and that word is “pun” or “double entendre”-definitely NOT Irony.

    I’m more confused than ever after reading everything.

  • greg

    >> Hi , can you please confirm if the sentence mentioned in the beginning ” the procrastinator’s meeting has been postponed – is this an irony or not ?I think it is ….

    It would be ironic if it held exactly on time.

  • Andrew

    I always thought Alanas’s song was intentionally incorrect in order to produce the “ironic” outcome of a song about irony not being ironic. I have only recently considered the possibility that she actually thought the lyrics were ironic.

    I still wouldn’t count my original thought about her song as ironic though. I do like to imagine though that she has “trolled” everyone with her song.

    Final thought; Would Socrates have made a good troll?


  • Darling

    Alanis Morrisettes song is Ironic in the fact that it’s saying exactly what it isn’t, whether that was intentional and she thought that deep into it I do not know.

  • zerc

    Another take on Jim White’s Jaguar.

    A hunter finally kills a jaguar in Africa after years of trying. He brings it home with him and is on his way to the taxidermist with the animal. He stops at a friends house for a while and in the meantime a sick Jaguar escapes from a local zoo, happens to wander down the street where his car is parked, jumps in the front seat through an open window, curls up on the seat and dies. Or….no, wait! A bear escapes too and goes to the car and takes the original jaguar to eat and then the other jaguar curls up in the seat and dies and the man takes it to the taxidermist not even realizing it’s not the one he spent all his life hunting!!!! (alright, that’s enough of that.)

    I’m of the opinion that, while there are definitely broad definitions of irony, even small variations in a story or event can quickly change it from ironic to non-ironic, or vice versa. Maybe confusion arises due to association of humor with irony. If I assume I laugh at anything ironic, and I don’t laugh at a certain thing, maybe I incorrectly assume it’s not ironic.

    There’s an episode of American Dad where Roger is on a prison-transport bus and comes up with an idea to tell jokes to make the driver laugh and go off the road. The bus falls down a hill and Roger busts out. A cop pulls up, Roger throws sand in his face and kicks the cop and then gets in his car and drives off. He gets back on the road and remembers the joke he just told, starts laughing at his own joke, and ends up going off the road and tumbling down the hill, crashing right into the same bus he just escaped from. I love stuff like that.

  • Jan

    Trying to commit suicide by jumping out of the 4. floor, surviving and then getting run over by the ambulance

  • Jessica

    Is it more ironic if the ambulence does or does not save him after running him over?

  • Joss

    Geetanjali asked: “Hi , can you please confirm if the sentence mentioned in the beginning ” the procrastinator’s meeting has been postponed – is this an irony or not ?I think it is ….”

    No, it isn’t irony because it’s entirely expected. There’s no dissonance between the players and the result of this situation. Think about it: at hearing the news, you’d respond, “well, that figures!”, but certainly not “Oh, how ironic!”

    A clear case of irony would be if the 2012 Summit for Anti-Procrastination was pushed back to 2013.

    Oh, how ironic!

  • Charles Kelsey

    I have learn about this during my intermediate years and I find this part of english learning so very interesting. But I am not sure if I still have the right things in mind though.

    Ex. Isn’t it ironic that Francesca is afraid of closed type of place but still rides an elevator?

  • Brent Hatfield

    I liked Michaels Oxford Dictionary definition best:
    Something is ironic when, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, it happens in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causes ‘wry amusement’ as a result.

    I think that the key is opposite things happening from intent, and wry amusement. Those two together are key.

    So, for example (for those with a twisted sense of humor) one might say it was ironic that on the day he finally finished the project of filling in the old tornado shelter that was never used, a tornado came and killed him.

    I think that (this just happened to me) it’s ironic that I was not able to attend a focus group on health care because I got sick.

    I think the facebook one meets the test also. Posting something you think is relevant and will get distributed by posting on Facebook – but one was writing about Facebook being boring and useless has both tests of opposites and wry amusement.

    Not sure about the Thanksgiving one though. Perhaps irony would be something like – the corporation chose to do it’s big downsizing on the day of the Company Thanksgiving Dinner. That would be ironic (not sure how amusing, but kinda in an awful way).

    Great topic – I learned a lot – and also understand why it is complex

  • Elza Guil

    Dear all, I am the 3d year student from philological faculty and I am writting my course paper about irony. But I need examples from newspapers, you know, articles and so on. I beg you to help me! 🙂 Please, if you find anywhere good examples of irony, write me asap))
    Thank you in advance! ^)

  • John Gabriel

    Dear Elza,
    A good example of irony is Elza Guil, a philology student, who is “writting” her course paper on irony.

  • Elza Guil

    It was a misprint 😛

  • John

    Define irony: Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.

  • JCK

    If the expected result of Thanksgiving is that the dinner is held on Thanksgiving day, then the actual result of having dinner on the following day would cause incongruity. So that would make it fit definition 3.

  • Caroline

    Ironic or not:
    Olympic swimmer drowns?

  • Keith

    I haven’t read all the way to the end of this (endless) string of comments, so if this has already been addressed… forgive me…

    I think the definition of irony is kind of an empty shell because irony has a lot to do with perception… it’s something you grasp… as has been pointed out, children generally don’t get irony, even if you explain it to them.

    It reminds me of the difference between a simple error and a fallacy. An error is simply error, where a fallacy could fairly be called a seductive error.

    Similarly, sarcasm isn’t simply telling a falsehood, but telling a falsehood with the purpose of expressing something else.

    “What color is the sky?”

    “Purple.” (said in a snarky tone)

    What makes this sarcasm rather than simply being wrong, is that it carries the implication that the person asking the question is stupid, or at the very least unresourceful…

    Irony is irony because of it’s import, not just it’s content…

    Just my two cents…

  • Keith

    And my third cent…

    Many keep saying something to the effect of “That’s not irony, that’s sarcasm, and they are NOT the same.”

    But sarcasm does USE irony to achieve the sarcastic effect. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to think of an example of sarcasm that doesn’t use irony. One of the given definitions is, “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.” How does sarcasm not fit that mold?

  • Shelby

    Maybe this thread is causing confusion because no one has offered other words to replace “ironic” in the examples. (some clarity came for me with the diabetic – ambulance – insulin post.)

    some suggestions (not interchangeable, I realize):
    paradoxical, peculiar, incongruous, weird, strange, humorous coincidence, funny, poetic justice, “doesn’t it just figure that,” add your own…

    Help fill in the blanks:
    Isn’t it ___________ that I can’t go to church because I have to study for my theology exam?
    It’s __________ that he posted on Facebook that postings on Facebook are useless and boring.
    She put the gift in a safe place so she didn’t lose it, then she forgot where she put it. How ___________! (OK, that never happens to me. [sarcasm].)
    How ________ that my work Thanksgiving party is the day after we get our layoff notices!

  • stevoo g.

    watch the “big bang theory”series and you’ll know what sarcasm(irony) is

  • Jake Wheeler

    Irony is a consequence derived from its own preventive efforts–your labors give birth to the very outcome you were seeking to avoid. Typically in mythology, somebody hears a prophecy in which attempts to derail only succeed in making come true. Or, for instance, arming pilots might result in putting guns into the hands of airborne jihadists- guns which they otherwise might not have acquired.

    It’s supposed to be something scarce, irony is; dull minds see no irony, mediocre minds see a lot of irony, and fine minds see a little irony in the universe.

  • hambone johnson

    I’d like to thank you Jake Wheeler. I think that is the most concise and clear explanation I’ve seen.

    I don’t necessarily know what irony is, but I know what it isn’t.

    I don’t think any of the examples in the article (Facebook, dog named Tiny, missing church or stepping in a puddle) are irony. The diabetic/truck/insulin isn’t irony, it just a horrible (or funny) coincidence. Several people above have already stated that coincidence is too often confused with irony.

  • Keith


    It’s true: it IS ironic when your labors give birth to the very outcome you were seeking to avoid. But that doesn’t negate other occurrences of irony.

    Reminds me of a friend of mine who categorically dismisses puns as “the lowest form of comedy,” and then smiles in spite of himself when he hears a good one…

    Irony abounds… how much of it is noteworthy, however, is a matter of taste… and fine minds…

  • Jake Wheeler

    Thanks Keith and Hambone for responding. Yup. My birthday is in early April. Three times in my life, my birthday will have fallen on Easter. If I were an atheist, that wouldn’t be ironic. Some people like to intone: there ARE no coincidences. Uh, yes there are. Some things just happen at the same time. That’s why there’s time and space.

    I like to refer to puns as punish humor, which, in the world of irony and puns, makes it one thing, but not the other.

  • mohit mundra

    In simple terms the “irony” may be called a situation or condition in what have tried to explain and just opposite meaning was being understood .
    plz do tell if u agree or disagree ..:)

  • Daniel Penicate

    I think part of the problem is that people have different perceptions as to the extent of the difference between appearance and reality (using Guest Author’s simplified definition). For example–I can see taking the position that “I can’t go to church because I have a theology exam to study for” isn’t ironic–because there is no appearance clearly contraposed to the reality. But if the sentence were “I chose to study for my theology exam rather than go to church,” I think there clearly is a difference between the appearance (I am a devout person who values religious practice) and the reality (I am willing to forego religious practice in the pursuit of good grades in my religious studies program). So I have a problem with putting the question up for popular vote.

  • Greg

    Is it ironic, given the public at large don’t understand irony, that IsItIronic.com leave the decision to a public vote!

  • post-ironic

    Hm. What’s ironic is an article attempting to definitively answer the question “What is ironic?” by implicitly asserting (via the isitironic.com website example) that irony is determined by democratic vote, not by the actual meaning of the concept ‘irony’.

    I.e. presuming to be an authority and then proceeding to demonstrate a lack of understanding.

    Compounding the irony is the fact that the poll results in the examples provided from that website (which I will now never visit) seem to demonstrate pretty conclusively that democratic vote, in fact, has little to do with determining whether a statement is ironic.

    Thirdly, the fact that this page was one of the top Google results when I typed in ‘define irony’, is another layer. Actually wait…now it’s starting to get self-reflexive. Maybe this page does demonstrate irony. Unintentionally ironically.

  • Thelma walsh

    Isn’t it ironic that I read the post, all the comments and explanation with the purpose of understanding what an “Irony” is, but instead, got more confused?

  • Andy Thomson

    To Garrison – Hamlet’s father is dead, it is Polonius hiding behind the curtain whom he slays thinking him to be his uncle (who marries Hamlet’s mother).

    For a good example of comic irony, allow me to quote from an episode of Frasier in which Niles is asked by his father,Martin, if he would still be willing to put him up for a few months.
    Martin: “well, the question is really do you still want me Niles?”
    Niles: “oh Dad, I want you as much now as I did back then”

    It is clear to us, the audience, that Niles hates the idea of living with his father, while his father is content with his son’s reply.

    This is a good example of being ironically witty.

  • Dee Hess

    How “ironic” Guest Author promised, “with examples” early. Indeed it was promised in the first sentence of this critique. How ironic I thoroughly read this entire diatribe with expectations of learning from the subject matter expert, yet learning nothing. Confused disappointed, there was no substantive teaching or judgement linked with each example. I wondered why. Perhaps I am feeling a bit paranoid–left hanging like a participle. Or was Guest Author simply demonstrating “sarcasm”? Nay, me thinks it “sadistic.”

  • venqax

    From Keith:
    it IS ironic when your labors give birth to the very outcome you were seeking to avoid. But that doesn’t negate other occurrences of irony.

    I agree, but aside from the first, there simply doesn’t seem to be any authority or agreement as to what those other occurrences are. My inclination, then, is to stick to the first and leave it at that. The “other occurrences” must be something else, and otherwise irony evidently has no meaning at all apart from “hmm…making”. The sum of all this discussion seems to be that there is no agreed upon, or authoritative definition of what is ironic. Maybe this is a price English pays for being too “democratic” and lacking a decisionmaking body. Pitty, really, because it seems like a potentially valuable concept that is simply too amorphous to be realized. Is any of that ironic? Sure, why not.

  • venqax

    pity, of course.

  • J

    I don’t have a problem with the definitions even though I guess there is much disagreement on the examples…

    What I want to know is what term SHOULD be used for those situations where exactly the least appropriate thing has been done. The Facebook video is a perfect example. I don’t think irony is correct. But IS there a word that does describe this? If not, let’s invent one!

  • J

    Interestingly, although I do not believe the Facebook example showcases irony, if I was to do this and say, “the irony is not lost on me,” I have used that expression exactly correctly, as this is the correct use of a phrase which happens to misuse the word, “irony.”

    This is much like how people criticize use of “literally.” I say those doing the criticizing are wrong. If I was to say “I would literally die of embarrassment,” it is true that I would only figuratively die. However “literally,” is not JUST a word, it is also an expression that means, “figuratively.” So it is being used correctly as an expression, although misused as a word. Confusing, yes, but still true.

  • venqax

    I disagree on the last. Literally and figuratively are antonyms, not synonyms. Literally does not mean figuratively, but quite–literally– the opposite. It is used that way by some. But when so done is incorrect, hence the point of correcting it, which some other posts on here do. Where did you get the notion that literally means figuratively? Just curious, I’m sure there is some “peoples'” dctionary that says that. Along with regardless and irregardless being synonyms. and nukylar being an alternative pronunciation of nuclear, etc.

  • Steve

    I think the irony of “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette is that none of the situations are ironic. Most people just take the song at face value. This “pretense of ignorance” sort of qualifies it for Socratic irony if that was the true intention.

  • Grace

    I hate to be the one to bring it back to this off-topic topic, but I find it hard to take someone’s comments seriously when they don’t know the difference between a gender “roll” and a gender “role”. I mean, really?! Did no one else notice this blunder? I realize that I am digging up an ancient conversation from the near genesis of this topic but this is too juicy for me to let go. If you wish to make a point about semantics, Lawrence Miller, at least (for the love of all that is holy, in the literary world at least) use your words properly. All that I could think about while reading your treatise were jelly donuts and fruit roll-ups and although this was fun for me, I am guessing NOT the effect you were intending. Now is that, or is that not irony?

  • dustandwater

    There is a lot of repetition here and far too many people meta-commenting on how Ironic it is that ‘poster-x’ said this or that an article on irony further confuses the concept of irony.

    If you’ve only skimmed to the bottom, I suggest you go back and read the posts from Mike and Venqax and also Greg’s about the irony of IsItIronic.com .

    Some common misconceptions that I think have caused a lot of the confusion here:
    Irony is funny
    – While that is often the case, it is in many cases only a by-product. Only with sarcasm and stand-up comedy is the humor really intended.
    Irony is the opposite of what is expected
    – it’s a good start but there is the element of intention missing. At some point, the subject has to intend one outcome and experience the opposite – not just expect it.

  • dustandwater

    — same for ‘tragic’ as for ‘funny’. It doesn’t have to be tragic or funny to make it ironic, though many ironic instances are either funny or tragic.

    — a question asked by a few here begs for words to cover those things that have been deemed NOT ironic. In most cases, they are coincidence.

  • Guido

    Thank you everyone for this string of posts. I googlecame here looking for not necessarily a definition of irony, but some examples.

    Ones that work for me concisely:

    Olympic swimmer drowns. (Caroline)
    Somebody stole my safe. (Venqax)

    Poetic justice is where the bad guy gets theirs in a way that chimes with their crimes. If a professional assassin is assassinated that’s poetic justice. If he accidentally shoots himself in the face, that’s irony.

    Sarcasm involves opposite meanings, “nice shirt!” when confronted with someone wearing horrible shirt. It would be ironic if the person who said this was wearing a horrible shirt. Pot/kettle scenarios are pretty much always ironic.

    Our Facebook poster, had he posted his video on how useless Facebook was, on Facebook, and had then enjoyed huge success because of it, would have been perfectly ironic.

    I agree with many above about Ed Byrne’s Alanis Morisette take. It’s brilliant, and when I saw it at the comedy store in London, a heckler told him “It’s a metaphor!”. And he was able to respond “Not really, if anything it’s a simile”.

  • Greg

    to: thebluebird11 – You don’t know what misnomer means either.

    to: Kathryn – No, I don’t call an 18 year old male a boy. But I don’t call him a man either. I, and every socially adequate person, using the common vernacular, calls him a “guy”. The equivalent would be to call a female a “gal”, but that hasn’t caught on.
    It is both weird and unhealthy to call 18 year olds men and women. They are not. New studies have come out this week showing that the mind is not fully formed until 24.
    “Girl” is not used to be insulting or condescending, it is just where the mutability of language has left us at the present time.
    If calling young ladies “women” helps you seduce them easier and makes you feel less guilty in the morning then that’s your hang up, baby doll.
    P.s. Where do your crunchy Birkenstocks stand on the African-American, Asian-American, White conundrum? –
    Black? Yellow? European-American?

  • J

    Sorry to be slightly off-topic (and a bit rude), but I’m a bit annoyed that my comments were so badly misinterpreted.

    @Venqax… I don’t think you read my post very carefully. I am well aware that as WORDS literally and figuratively are (nearly) antonyms. And in fact that is the end of the story for figuratively. But literally is both a word which means “exactly” and an expression which means “figuratively” but with added exaggeration.

    Are you also going to say that “it’s raining cats and dogs,” is WRONG? That expression has a meaning OTHER than those portrayed by (unfortunately given the topic) the literal words.

  • J


    I did clearly say it was being misused as a word. (But used correctly as an expression.)

  • J

    Can I describe the Facebook example as “apropos?”

    Apropos essentially means “appropriate” and while it is “appropriate,” it is so in a ridiculous way. Can I call it “apropos” ironically? Can I call it “apropos” sarcastically? Can I call it “apropos” legitimately? It seems to be almost paradoxically appropriate.

    What are the opinions?

  • dustandwater

    @J _ First of all, to your rebuttal of Venqax’s response to your description of ‘literal’. Essentially, Venqax is still right. There is no way that ‘literal’ and ‘figurative’ should mean the same thing. When literal is used by the current slingers of slang, they are mostly misunderstanding it rather than playing with meaning. Much in the way Alanis misunderstood ‘ironic’. We would go on to say that because people misuse the word ‘ironic’ it now has two meaning and such is the case for ‘literally’.

    There is nothing wrong with saying ‘it is raining cats and dogs’, no: it is a figurative expression and a well-known and widely-accepted one. It would however be wrong to say ‘it is literally raining cats and dogs’, as that is a misuse of the word ‘literally’.

    Now, onto ‘apropos’. Going by the sub-questions you post, I’m not quite sure what you’re looking for. The only way the ‘Facebook’ example would be an ‘apropos example’ really, is if we were having this discussion on a FaceBook chat/wall/whatever you do on FaceBook.

    I’m not sure that answers your question as I’m a little confused as to exactly what you’re question is; it does however give you the accurate usage, so I hope it helps.

  • dustandwater

    Error in my previous comment: “we would NOT go on to say…”

  • dustandwater

    Also, to those commenters saying that the sign, “the procrastinators meeting has been postponed”, is not ironic:

    In the interpretation that many have made, it would not be ironic – we would expect procrastinators to postpone their meeting. Were we to see the sign, we might chuckle but more because it is so expected than anything else.

    However, if this meeting were organised by some organisation to help procrastinators stop procrastinating, and then that organisation (I’m thinking something like ‘Procrastinators Anonymous’) were cancelled, it would indeed be ironic.

    @J – also, apropos of apropos (the original meaning there), it is originally and more commonly used to mean ‘in reference to’, expressed as ‘apropos of’. This is the earliest borrowing of the word from it’s French meaning.

  • efren

    The reason most Alanis Morisette’s examples in her song aren’t true examples of irony are because they are just unfortunate coincidences. It’s not ironic that you get rain on your wedding day, that’s just an unhappy accident. Neither are getting 10,000 spoons when you need a fork. They are not related to the difference between appearance and reality. Someone telling a quiet person that they should quiet down is an example of irony. But sarcasm isn’t always irony!

  • Dan Theman

    One of my teachers in junior high gave me the best way to explain irony that I have ever heard in my entire life. I use this question to determine irony and it has never failed me.

    “Irony is when something seems like it should be one way, but it is actually another”

    If you’re ever unsure if something is ironic or not, just apply this rule and you’ll know.

  • Quint

    Someone above described irony this way;

    1. The truth is different than what is perceived.
    2. The outcome is different than what is expected.

    Also, the poster immediately above described it in this manner…

    “Irony is when something seems like it should be one way, but it is actually another”

    So, when Alanis’ old man won the lottery and then died the next day, it is ironic to me because we understand in retrospect the lack of happiness and contentment that the winnings should provide, but do not. Perhaps the situation would be more ironic if the excitment of winning actually killed him.

    What about the black fly in your chardonnay? Would it be ironic if you enjoyed the drink, but never noticed the fly until afterward; the perception that something ingested was pure, ruined by a pollutant after the fact of enjoyment?

    A death row pardon two minutes too late? The perception is that the pardon will save an innocent person. The outcome is certainly different than what was expected, but not really the opposite. So, to be ironic, maybe the call from the governor should actually cause the death? Two minutes early the phone rings “Riiiiiiiiinnng…” and a jumpy executioner hits the switch!

    Maybe anything could be ironic if you give it the right back story? I rarely use the word though. I usually say something like “Well isn’t that unfortunate” or I’ll just repeat with wide eyes whatever anyone says that may deserve the word. HA!

    Thank you all for an interesting way to kill an hour!

  • Steve

    Irony is, – Of the members of ZZ Top, the guy named “Frank Beard” is the only one without a beard.

  • cjs

    Example 4 is coincidental, not Ironic.

    The dogs name is the owner’s attempt to be ironic in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

    NOT ironic, as names are given in this way regularly for comedic value.

  • Lindsay

    Two perfect examples of irony…

    Irony: Sam Kinnison had a bit about how he and the patrons of the bar where he was entertaining were all drinking and getting drunk and were all going to drive home drunk and if anyone didn’t like it they could f**k off.” Kinnison was later killed by a drunk driver.

    Irony: That the guy riding his motorcycle without a helmet to protest helmet laws was killed in an accident he would have likely survived had he been wearing a helmet.

  • shay

    I feel, the day after Thanksgiving is the opposite day of Thanksgiving and it becomes an ironic statement , does it not? I assume, she did completely convey her thoughts. She may of meant, one day is Thanksgiving and the day after is not and opposite of when we give thanks by the majority. I too am confused…..hmm. Actually , my skills have the own issues. Why am I even commenting ?

  • the masses

    I have trouble sorting out what things are irony, and I figure that since language evolves with the society, dictionary definitions have evolved to include a broader meaning of “Irony” to include a statement with opposite/coincidental situations that are humorous. It most likely stems from difficulty of the masses to interpret the original usage, as well as a lack of distinction between “Irony,” “Satire,” Sarcasm,” Paradoxical,” and other such terms.

    Perhaps more knowledgeable people could help us masses by creating Irony from non-ironic statements, such as taking the first statement “I posted a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook” and adding something like “and I’m Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.” to make it ironic.

  • m

    I got bored reading all of the posts so i scrolled down.
    The best example of irony I have heard is this:

    A man has a fear of flying so he decides to drive to
    Wherever he needs to be then a plane crashes into his car.

  • John M

    There are fine examples of irony in many posts here. The one I like most was from jim white’s post on September 21, 2011: in an attempt to write an intellegent example of irony, he described a hunter killing a jaguar in Africa, while apparently unaware that there are no jaguars in Africa, they are a species found in the Americas (i.e. using the incorrect definition of something to try to correctly define something ese).

    The irony was compounded in subsequent posts where others modified the original story to try to make even better examples.

  • Sissum71

    Is this ironic:

    In an attempt to appear mentally superior to a group of people by pointing out the irony of one of their comments and their obliviousness in seeing the irony the woman’s example of irony was not ironic. The irony is that her attempt to appear superior by using irony and failing only demonstrated her lack of understanding of irony thus proving she was not mentally superior despite her attempt to prove the opposite?

    Is this irony? lol?? It’s really bugging me!!

  • Kev

    I always confined my definition of ironic to be something that would be the last thing you would expect to happen, but if we can’t argue with m-w, then let’s just go by that. Sarcasm is not equal to irony. Unexpected outcomes that do not have a poetically significant meaning cannot be irony. Richard Simmons growing obese and dying of a massive heart attack only two years after writing the book, “Never Grow Obese, or You’ll Die of a Massive Heart Attack; Be Like Me,” would be ironic. Not having a spoon while having a great bowl of soup placed before you would not be ironic unless you carried a spoon with you everyday except for that one. And yes, Alanis unwittingly smashed herself over the head with dramatic irony while trying to sing about standard irony. Perhaps there should be a committee.

  • Cam

    wwfan – best explanation, thank you. I understand now that it depends entirely on the observer and prior knowledge of context or a standard belief.

    Before reading these comments and definitions, I believed that sarcasm was separate from irony, but I think I understand now that it is a subset and very closely tied to dramatic irony. Ironic speech or act, with intent from the speaker or actor, places it in the subset of sarcasm and drama.

    I do disagree slightly with wwfan on one point. Not all sarcasm is intended to wound. Sarcasm can be playful if there is shared knowledge between the speaker and audience. Some may disagree with me on this point, but I think sarcasm includes inside jokes, dry wit, and statements made with a “nod and a wink” that serve to make only part of the audience powerful and aware.

    My new understanding applied to the example of Tiny the dog… if the owner knew at the time of naming Tiny it either already was or would likely grow up to be a massive dog, then “Tiny” is (playfully) sarcastic, and therefor also ironic. As part of the audience, I assumed the owner knew about Tiny’s large size and intended to create an ironic name. If Tiny were a runt that unexpectedly grew into a massive dog, then the name choice was simply ironic.

  • Nina Hutton

    Ok, I must admit i’m with the minority on most of the examples! Firstly, if I posted a useful video on how useless facebook was, on facebook…ironic! If a large dog was called tiny it would not be ironic….maybe comical? However, if he was called lucky, then tragically died a day after naming him, then it would be ironic!
    It’s also not ironic if someone steps into a puddle straight after laughing at someone else doing it. It’s sods law, typical and probably what you deserve, but not ironic!
    Of course it’s ironic that someone wouldn’t be able to go to church as they had to study for an exam about religion! Omg people, do you really not understand irony at all????
    Maybe Alanis Morrisette HAS ruinned it for us! After all, ‘rain on your wedding day’ is NOT ironic! Just bad bloody luck:-) xx

  • stylez

    For me, irony is made fairly clear by the Futurama episode “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings”, at least in the regard of using a word to mean something other than what is expected.

    The short summary:
    Fry wants to become a master of the Holophonor, without lessons, so he makes a deal with the Robot Devil to switch hands with some random robot in the universe, which the Devil states Fry probably won’t know. There is a giant wheel that gets spinned, and it almost lands on Bender (Fry’s friend), but lands on the Robot Devil himself (so the Robot Devil now has Fry’s hands). The Robot Devil exclaims “What an appallingly ironic outcome!” and Bender counters with “It’s not ironic, it’s just coincidental.”

    Later on, Bender, wondering what it would be like to be more annoying, makes a deal with the Devil to have his crotch-plate removed in exchange for a face-mounted stadium air horn (the Robot Devil originally wanted to exchange for Bender’s hands, which Bender replied “Grabby and Squeezy? No way!”). He uses the air horn on the first person he bumps into, Leela, who is on her way to listen to Fry’s Holophonor Opera, and deafens her. The Devil again points out the the irony of the situation, and Bender counters again with “It’s not ironic, it’s just mean!”.

    Later still, during the Opera’s intermission, Leela decides to make a deal with the Devil in order to gain her hearing back. He asks for her hands. She can’t hear what he is proposing, and says no. Then he says just one hand, pointing to her left hand. She agrees, and after getting the ears, she asks if the Robot Devil is going to take her hand, and he says “in good time”.

    Toward the end of the Opera, the Robot Devil interrupts and gives Fry an ultimatum that they swap hands, or he will take what he wants from Leela, her hand. Leela then sings a bit and ends with “I agreed that I’d give him my hand…” and the Devil chimes in with “in marriage”. At which point Bender sings “Now that IS irony!”.

  • aaa

    I think a lot of people confuse coincidental comeuppance with irony.

    These are good examples coincidental comeuppance but not of irony :

    Isn’t it ironic that the man who killed a jaguar in Africa (sic) was later killed by a guy driving a Jaguar?

    Isn’t it ironic that the guy that laughed at someone who accidentally stepped in a large puddle got splashed by a car shortly thereafter?

    A decent example of irony:
    A large dog named Tiny.

    The dog was very likely named with humorous intent to describe it as the opposite of what it was.

    A better example of irony:
    The owner named the dog Tiny after commenting about how it was the “runt” of the litter; Tiny later set a record for growing to such a large size.

  • wwfan

    @ cam

    Your take on sarcasm is interesting. However, I don’t think you are capturing sarcasm but describing “irony in action” quite perfectly.

    Irony in action certainly includes ‘jokes, dry wit, and statements made with a “nod and a wink” that serve to make only part of the audience powerful and aware.’ I might even borrow that, if I may, as it sums it up so fantastically. That is not sarcasm though.

    When you are being sarcastic, you want your target to know you think he’s an idiot. He’s supposed to be able to deconstruct the irony in the sarcasm so he sees what a fool he is. In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon almost completely undermines these sarcastic attacks by being so pleased he’s recognised the sarcasm that the attack loses its bite. However, in general, by being sarcastic, you are risking retribution as the attack on the self is, once deconstructed, explicit.

    When being ironic, you want the target to either not get the attack (if the threat of retribution is huge), or, in getting it, accept his foolishness and realise the new proposition informing the stance from which you are mounting your attack is better (if the irony is constructive), or recognise the foolishness of his position and not carry on following it (if the irony is destructive, i.e you have no alternate belief, but just see the absurdity of his). If you are using a sarcastic attack, neither is likely to happen, as the target will be so upset he is more than likely going to harden his belief to protect his concept of self.

    The close relationship between sarcasm and irony was Socrates’ great problem. His ironic method was intended to challenge the “objective truths” preached by the “wise men” of Athens, to illustrate that they were subjective and could be challenged from a variety of perspectives. He intended to illustrate how every proposition needs to be ironically challenged to ensure the action following the concept is just. However, his method resulted in upsetting the powerful Athenians so much (they were made to feel like idiots), they put him on trial and executed him. This is an example of how irony, in attempting to educate, actually wounds, which risks great retribution. However, the sarcasm is not intended, only perceived.

    The death of Socrates was partly down to the seductiveness of the ironic method, which resulted in young Athenians ironically challenging the great and good of the city, which impacted upon its civil life and could not be tolerated (one element of Socrates’ trial relates to his “corrupting the youth of Athens”). This is a second problem of irony. Once you start employing it, it seduces you, as you can use its tricks and techniques to make every proposition look absurd to your own great personal enjoyment. You lose connection with any value system, as you cannot judge which proposition has more value, because you can make them all absurd. You end up collapsing into nihilistic despair. This problem is detailed extensively by Vico and Kierkegaard.

    Your commentary on naming the dog Tiny is also very interesting. Is the owner being deliberately ironic (calling a dog Tiny when you know it will be huge), or is the name inadvertently ironic (you thought the dog would be small so named him literally, then felt stupid as it grew to a massive size). It is all about the audience. In the former, you are your own audience, with people who tell you it is a stupid name the ironic targets. In the latter, you are the victim of dramatic irony, with the audience knowing your once little Great Dane puppy was going to be a big dog. This scenario is relatively unlikely, as it would take an almost complete lack of knowledge about dogs to fail to estimate a future size, but is possible.

  • Tim

    I had got about halfway through this thread and hit JennyOH’s post dated July 5, 2011 1:27 pm and I really, to put in what believe to be ‘text speak’, LMFAO, it was perfect, thank you Jenny. It was just after quite an intense discussion of language use during the Greek/Roman empire, so was most welcome, it read:

    “If a man is hit by a truck and dies, it’s a tragedy.
    If a diabetic man is hit by a truck carrying sugar and dies, it’s a darkly humorous coincidence.
    If a diabetic man is hit by a truck carrying insulin and dies, it’s ironic [i.e. insulin should save this man’s life but was in reality the cause of his death].”

    I tend to think that crashing your car in the first momentsof your journey because you’re distracted by the act of fiddling around, putting your seatbelt on is quite a good example of irony, anyone, no?

    or, i once heard an example that made me laugh, a town planner, i late to a meeting to discuss the success of the traffic system he had designed, as he was ‘stuck in traffic’.

  • kaybee

    Perfect examples of irony are found in writings by O. Henry, specifically “Ransom of Red Chief” and “Gift of the Magi”.
    In the former, kidnappers looking for a ransom take a boy who is more than they can handle and end up paying the family to take him back. In the latter, a married couple each sell their most prized possession in order to buy a special Christmas gift that goes with the other’s prized possession. I teach irony with these examples and they are great stories as well.

  • Rels

    Another nice example;

    Online Games (MMOs) are ironic. Because, even though they’ve people and money involved, they’re not considered important; as their purpose: “entertainment” (in this case) has no real importance to the society they live in, that sees this as a waste of time – that could be better invested into something more useful to themselves (e.g: anything else that actually provides benefit to your own self, not your virtual one).

    The worst case I could imagine, is someone doing exercises with his in-game character, while he (himself) is needing it – but is too lazy to do so.

    PS: Hope I’ve written this in a “understandable way,” as I had to use a translator…
    Obs: Gamers may be offended by this post.

  • Rebecca

    Wow. I thought I knew what ironic meant. I came online to double check if my situation was ironic and found this post and am now confused. Here’s what happened:

    This morning my daughters’ school called to let me know that we had a delayed opening, allowing us to sleep in two hours later than usual. However, they called two hours EARLIER than we normally wake up for school and woke us up.

    Please tell me that is irony. If it’s not then I don’t know what irony is. 🙁

  • sandra

    I accidently came across this website wanting to know the meaning
    or a example of the word “irony”.

    would this be a example of the word irony?

    what if the girl replied ” It’s early this year” in the example about
    the Thanksgiving lunch being served the day after?

  • martyn

    I’m very glad there are a large number of people who do understand the meaning of irony.

    With the Alanis Morisette song though I think maybe there’s more to it. No doubt the complete lack of irony in all situations described in the song annoyed a lot of people, however, the conveyance of completely non-ironic scenarios through a song named ‘ironic’ (which people assume the lyrics will be) is in-fact an ironic joke in itself

  • Brightbard

    For a current events example, is this situational irony?

    An Amish man with the last name of Mullet was convicted of violent crimes in relation to hair cutting.

    Someone told me it wasn’t ironic but I think it’s situational irony not only because his name happens to be the name of a no-longer-popular-hair-style that people still love to ridicule, but also because it’s unexpected for Amish people to behave violently, and certainly, because haircutting is generally not considered a hate crime.

    Or is this simply a funny coincidence?

  • Neptunian

    “Terry on March 11, 2011 12:30 pm

    Ok I did not read all 50 responses… please don’t hate me

    But it IS ironic that Alanis wrote a song about irony with examples that were not irony……

    am i correct ?”

    If it wasn’t ironic, would it make it even MORE ironic that she meant it to be ironic yet it isn’t ironic? Oh my!

  • venqax

    @J: literally is…an expression which means “figuratively” but with added exaggeration. No, it’s not. Literally does not mean that, even if people misuse it because they think it does.
    dustandwater did a good job of responding to this.
    “Raining cats and dogs” has no relation at all to the question here. It is simply an abstract expression. Not only is it not raining cats and dogs, but it is not even raining “like” or “as if” it were cats and dogs. It is not ironic, not literal, and it is not even figurative. It is simply nonsensical, nevertheless idomatic.

  • David

    I haven’t read all of the comments to see if somebody has already pointed this out, but there are other ways the Facebook situation could be ironic. This could also be ironic if the video unexpectedly went viral. In that case it’s ironic because Facebook turned out to be useful.

    Otherwise I agree that merely posting the video on Facebook isn’t ironic. It’s not ironic because the premise of the video is that Facebook is boring and useless. Merely posting it on Facebook can’t be ironic unless the outcome has something to do with that.

    For example, posting the video on Facebook could also be ironic if the video was useful and entertaining. In that case, it would be ironic because posting the video on Facebook would make Facebook useful and entertaining.

    The fundamental problem with irony I think is that there are multiple definitions that make it confusing to some and it also must involve a level of interpretation. An ironic situation is not fundamentally ironic by itself, the irony in a situation is found by interpreting it.

    An example of the interpretation is the raining on a wedding day example from the Alanis Morissette song which somebody has already pointed out. Just having it rain on your wedding day is not ironic. Having it rain on your wedding day when you picked that day specifically because the weather report said it would not rain is ironic. It’s ironic because there is a reversal of expectations. Your action of picking a day to prevent rain is what caused the rain in the first place. Irony is something that you “find” in a situation by interpreting it. Alanis Morisette didn’t give us enough information to see whether or not there is irony in the situation. Her wedding situation is not ironic because a wedding day and whether or not it rains do not necessarily have anything to do with each other, not because the situation fundamentally can’t be ironic.

    Lots of people are confused about what “is” and “is not” irony and that’s just not how it works. Whether or not something is ironic requires enough information to interpret it as such and most real-life irony is more complicated than just “x happened instead of y”.

    The Facebook and theology test examples are both like that. There are all kinds of ways those two situations COULD be ironic but they do not give us enough information to decide. It is because the authors of those situations do not fully understand what irony is and did not give us the right information. Their situations may very well be very ironic but they did not tell us about the parts that could make them ironic.

    Irony is not a kind of situation, it is an interpretation of a situation.

    Somebody also asked about the procrastinator’s meeting and I also wonder about that. I don’t think a procrastinators putting off their meeting is ironic. They are procrastinators, we can expect that they will put things off and it’s not ironic when they do.

    If there is a meeting SPECIFICALLY for people that DON’T procrastinate and THEY put off the meeting, THEN it’s ironic. It’s ironic because our expectations about what is have been reversed. The sign doesn’t tell us enough about the situation for us to know whether or not it’s ironic. It’s just as “ironic” or “not ironic” as Alanis Morissette’s situations.

    Also, sarcasm IS a form of irony. Sarcasm is irony because there is disparity between what is stated and what is intended. The reasons some people think sarcasm isn’t irony are (1) that it’s so widespread and easy to assume that everybody is in on it but that doesn’t matter and (2) that, like irony, most don’t understand what sarcasm actually is.

    On (1), for everyone to understand the meaning of the statement they must know there is an intended disparity. It doesn’t matter if everybody in the room does or doesn’t, the mere fact that they have to know there is a disparity is what makes sarcasm a form of irony.

    And on (2), sarcasm isn’t just “the opposite of what you say” as in “hey, that’s good” where good means bad. The statement is sarcastic because it SOUNDS like a compliment but is INTENDED as an insult. There are also other ways of being sarcastic that are not just an opposite meaning. An example of this is the phrase “don’t work too hard” which doesn’t mean “work harder”, it is a sarcastic jab at the worker’s perceived laziness. Sarcasm is when there is disparity between statement and intent and it is a form of irony.

  • Joe G

    My understanding of the definition of irony is, “A chain of events in which there is some sort of twist of opposite or backfire in the end” for example, a fire station burns down, or a cop gets arrested. An even better example would be the majority of people who incorrectly use this word in an attempt to sound more intelligent, when in fact they accomplish just the opposite. As for the song by Alanis Morissette, I certainly find it ironic that a song intended to describe irony and yet none of the examples given in the song are ironic at all, is, in and of itself ironic.

  • Alanis

    I find it very interesting that your first and fourth examples are essentially identical but provoke opposite responses. I’ve taken the liberty to rewrite the fourth example to clarify the similarity.

    Is it ironic that I posted a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook?
    Reader’s Verdict: 93% NOT IRONIC; 7% IRONIC. Final Verdict: NOT IRONIC.

    Is it ironic that someone posts on Facebook and you make fun of them… and the next thing you know – YOU post on Facebook!?
    Reader’s Verdict: 94% IRONIC; 6% NOT IRONIC. Final Verdict: IRONIC.

  • Kat

    “ironic” by Alanis Morissette (and whether or not her lyrics are, in fact, ironic):
    “An old man, turned 98, he won the lottery and died the next day”
    –this IS ironic bc most people expect that if they had won the lottery they’d live to enjoy their winnings. The old man’s death is the opposite expectation that most of us have.
    “It’s like rain on your wedding day”
    –IS ironic because in planning for a wedding most people try to plan around rainy days… It doesn’t always work but most people in hopeful expectation don’t want it to rain.
    “It’s the free ride that you already paid”
    –NOT ironic unless under certain circumstances. Had the person known about the freeness of the ride prior to paying for it but for whatever reason (intoxication, forgetfulness, etc) paid for it anyway would constitute irony upon said person’s realization what they had done.
    “It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take”
    –NOT irony in any way, shape, or form.
    “Life as a funny way of sneaking up on you when you think everything’s okay and everything goes right and life has a funny way (inaudible) when everything goes wrong and everything blows up in your face”
    –irony would be the exact opposite of this but by her actually saying this IS ironic. I suspect that she meant it that way. Clever lady.
    “Traffic jam when you’re already late”
    –NOT irony. Just misfortune.
    “No smoking sign on your cigarette break”
    –IS irony if said person always go to the same smoking area and they expect no no smoking sign because it wasn’t there the last time they smoked there.
    “It ‘s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife”
    –INCONCLUSIVE. If the person were looking in a drawer labeled “knives” then yes, this would be irony.
    “It’s meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife”
    –IS irony by the social construction ingrained in our perceived expectation of what “the man/woman of my dreams” means to our society and by assuming that a woman’s beauty is what is able to “catch and keep a man” which is also a social construction. Alanis is merely playing on unjust societal expectations.

    So, taken for face value, Alanis barely makes any ironic statements but when you extrapolate upon the meaning that she conveys all of her statements are, in fact, ironic. (With the exception of already being late and winding up in a traffic jam… Most people don’t expect to get there on time when they’re already late regardless of traffic. Good try, Alanis).

  • Kat

    Oh, I forgot “not taking good advice” in my summary… Not ironic Alanis.

  • Lara

    There is one example of irony that made it crystal clear to me in high school, and that is this statement:

    “It’s easy to quit smoking cigarets. I’ve done it 10 times already!”

    Chew on that one for a while 🙂

  • TJP

    Is it ironic that the name of Britain’s biggest dog (until it died recently) was Tiny?

    On this, it is worth noting the rhetorical device known as antiphrasis, which is basically often one word irony:
    ‘Come here, tiny!’ said the boy to the zoo’s largest gorilla.

  • The Unflattered

    How about the Paul Walker car wreck? Lot’s of people imply that it’s ironic (because his F&F character was a skilled driver).

    I say it would have been ironic had he died on a slow-moving trolley ride, because this is totally incongruous to the high-risk, high-speed nature of his film persona.

  • venqax

    “It’s easy to quit smoking cigarets. I’ve done it 10 times already!”
    That’s not ironic. But I think it is illustrative of the overall problem here.

  • Big Bad Brad

    Irony is the opposite of what you would expect.

    It would be ironic if it rained on a weatherman’s wedding day.

    My question is “Is it ironic that the word misspelled is often misspelled?”

  • Yeye

    This post from Guest author seems to be irony itself. The author presents a situation where he pretends not to know what is actually ironic, and everyone cries about it because he is providing information on what counts as being ironic.

    Is it possible that we may be characters in a dramatic irony?

    It’s also ironic when someone says people do not know much about irony and they do; but instead uses sarcasm for the “supposed” ironic statement -that the language misfits are in good company.

    What is not ironic is studying for a theological exam instead of going to church. As pointed out in one of the replies, it would only be ironic if the topic being preached may help with the exam: this is not the situation nor is it assumed to be.

    Studying theology for anexam is like being in church with even better rewards. You will be tested, and it’s not shared knowledge where in small groups members help out.

  • MrMooMoo

    Isn’t it ironic that unique commenters repeat each other, like the SHEEPLE THEY ARE??!!!! Jk. I know that’s not irony.

    One thing I’ve found annoying, in reading 90% of the nearly 200 comments above (!), is that so many people blow off certain “potential examples of irony” as “just coincidences”. The puddle example is not “just a coincidence”. A coincidence is when you run into an old friend on the other side of the globe, but no one would ever attempt to call that “ironic”. If the puddle example is not ironic, perhaps it is just a “coincidental comeuppance”, like someone above dubbed it, but it’s not “just a coincidence”.

    There were many insightful and helpful comments (and many not so much, but good for a laugh nonetheless), but I’ll follow up on J’s posts, which I liked. He asked the question, “If the Facebook example is not irony, then what is it?” He didn’t ask that entirely rhetorically, because he allowed that this example might be distinct from the “true definition of irony”. But what would you call this example? Would you call it hypocrisy? That doesn’t do it justice. Though it is hypocritical, so is saying “don’t cheat on your girlfriend, bra” and then cheating on your girl (I mean your woman… that’s for le feministe). But this is more than that. I like J’s point that if he were to post it, he could rightly say, “the irony is not lost on me”. If we can’t strictly call it “ironic”, let’s call it “ironish”.

    But I especially liked J’s example of the word “literally”.

    Venqax, your first posts had me going “like”, but your response to this one had me going “downvote”. The whole response wasn’t utterly incorrect, and all in all, you make a valid point, but your sarcastic example of “nukylar as an alternative pronunciation of nuclear” kind of brings home J’s point. You were citing this example as “pah! the ignoramus can continue in his ignorance, but I’ll see it as such and call him out on it. It’s still W-R-O-N-G WRONG.” But what about words where there are two “dictionary-acceptable” pronunciations? The second pronunciation has been around long enough so that it made it into the dictionary. Probably the only way that the second pronunciation came about was that some group of people were pronouncing it “incorrectly”. Haven’t you ever heard the saying, “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s”? Were you one of those kids who insisted that your way was the only way such a buttercup?

  • MrMooMoo

    I wasn’t finished. I accidentally hit send.

    But I was trying to be funny with the Reese’s cup reference.

    But J is right that “literally” is used as an expression for adding emphasis. When you were a kid, didn’t you ever say to your little brother, when you caught him snooping through your things, “I’m going to kill you. No, seriously, I am going to kill you.” Or when you were little bit older, “I am literally going to kill you.” Probably most of the people who use “literally” “incorrectly” could tell you the literal definition of “literal”. So, their use of “literal” is not wrong in the same way that other grammatical mistakes are. It’s more like when a snowboarder says, “that was the sickest landing you could ever imagine”. Of course, you can probably imagine a sicker landing–one where the snowboarder’s impact with the ground causes him to regurgitate all of his Campbell’s beef stew from lunch–but you probably wouldn’t fault him for the use of the superlative. Now, if he took it one step further, and added “that was literally the sickest landing”, would you fault him? All I can say is that “literally” is literally the best word for adding emphasis to a sentence. (Besides fifty exclamation marks, of course.)

    I am reminded of some points by the author of “The Adventure of English”. (It’s a great book; I’m sure all of you English nerds would love it.) In the book, the author writes about the struggle to define and maintain English, to enhance it and to keep it pure. While many of these efforts were laudable, he also paints the picture of how language could be used by elitists to demarcate the classes. Challenging these tendencies was Joseph Priestley, who radically asserted that rules of grammar ought to be derived from common usage, rather than the dictates of any self-styled grammarians. So as you strive for clarity and precision in language usage, I commend everyone to resist the tendency to snobbery, and remember the saying, “There’s no wrong way… to eat Reese’s”. Thank you.

  • MrMooMoo

    P.S., I didn’t mean that 90% of the comments were annoying, just that I had read 90% of them! and that that was something that annoyed me in several.

    And when I called people SHEEPLE, that was mostly just a joke. There were a lot of intelligent and interesting thoughts expressed.

  • Shing

    99% of Reader’s Verdicts are WRONG.

    For example:
    Is it ironic that I posted a video about how boring and useless Facebook is on Facebook?
    Reader’s Verdict: 93% NOT IRONIC; 7% IRONIC. Final Verdict: NOT IRONIC.

    This is definitely ironic. Here is WHY!::
    Irony 1:
    The speaker is presumed to AGREE with the video’s opinion that Facebook is boring and USELESS. Then the speak USES Facebook to share that video.
    Irony 2:
    The supposed MSG of the video says that Facebook is USELESS, but the video being shared and being Watched on Facebook MAY have UNintentionally implied that Facebook is USEFUL.

    MSG: Useless
    Reality: Useful

    This example is the VERY definition of irony.

    It is very ironic that 99% of the verdicts on isitironic.com are Wrong. It is ironic because it is supposed to be a site to help people know what is ironic and what isn’t. It instead is WORSE than no help at all. Which is ironic.

    Intend: Helpful
    Reality: Harmful

    The verdicts on isitironic.com only shows that people are dumb.

  • Kara Thrace

    Sarcasm’s derivative meaning is “to tear the flesh.” Literally. (And I don’t mean that in some language-garbled misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “literally.”)

    So for posters who have suggested that sarcasm doesn’t have to be mean, I would make the suggestion that you rethink your position. Or consider that being witty and being sarcastic are not synonymous.

    As for irony, the descriptions of the two audiences in the comments are the best definitions of irony I’ve read by lay-people. They far surpass the weak original post. And no, that’s not ironic.

  • JimmyJay

    In the movie “Con Air”, where a group of convicts hijack a plane, they start celebrating during the flight to the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. At the sight of this, Steve Buscemi’s character says, “Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.”

    That sort of sums up my understanding of irony.

  • JM

    Rocker said:
    “Well, I guess the irony of this page is how many don’t understand irony at all. Serving Thanksgiving lunch the day after Thanksgiving is in NO WAY ironic. It’s just because they couldn’t do it on the day itself because it’s a holiday. Of course it would make more sense to serve it the day before, but really, who’s counting?
    Uploading video onto FB about how boring and useless FB is: not ironic unless… the video itself is useless and boring.
    Calling big dog tiny: ironic. Much the same effect can be had by calling a small dog Killer or Tyson.
    Missing church to study for theology test: I think we are agreed this is not ironic, just poor planning.
    Stepping in puddle after mocking others: definitely not ironic, just coincidence. A lot of people confuse irony with coincidence, like the football commentators who tell us it’s ironic that a player scores against a club he used to play for. NO!
    There is an Irish comedian called Ed Byrne who made his early career based on using the Alanis Morrisette song as illustration that Americans didn’t understand irony. The irony of that was: she’s Canadian.”

    Except Byrne didn’t say that Americans didn’t understand irony.

  • Lemonaide

    I agree with Kat. I also agree with David. In my opinion the irony comes from the subjective interpretation of the statement not the statement itself. For me, the expectation of winning the lottery is that the winner will have time to do all the things they want to do and the money to do them. Most people that I have seen winning the lottery are younger to middle aged people. To die right after winning seems very ironic to me given the commercial expectation advertised.

    I think that same principle applies to the wedding day. Most people would expect their wedding day to be the happiest most perfect day of their lives so far. Having it rain on their most perfect day is directly opposite of what the wedding couple (and I) would be hoping and planning for. I live in a relatively dry area of the United States. So when someone describes a wedding day to me my initial expectation about the event is that it will be sunny and without rain. If you live in an area of the world where it rains every day and twice on Sunday then it would not be ironic for it to rain on a wedding day. You expect it to rain every day, so rain on a wedding day is normal and expected, and yet to me it is still ironic. So on that note, If I had my wedding at the North Pole because I expect it to never rain (only snow) and it rained wouldn’t that be ironic?

    I also like the cats and dogs example. I personally think it would be ironic if the man said its raining cats and dogs and the friend looks outside and it is actually raining cats and dogs (for whatever sci-fi reason). The irony is that no one expects it to actually be raining cats and dogs. They generally expect it to be raining (water, usually, but generally a liquid of some composition) really hard.

    I think the procrastinator example is not ironic. However if the example was “The procrastinator demanded his meeting start on time” I think it would be ironic. My subjective expectation is that the procrastinator’s meeting is always going to start late because of his procrastination on going to the meeting. Having him demand his meeting start on time when he is always late seems ironic to me.

    I am braced for the assault, so let the picking of nit begin.

  • Emily R

    I’m only 15 years old and I have always understood irony. Read the story The Interlopers. It’s a great example of irony. At the end (spoiler) the two feuding men, whom were trapped by a tree, believe that their men are coming to save them. After making amends with each other, they argue over who’s men will come first to show the greatest gratitude. As it turns out, the men that they see coming are actually a pack of wolves. It is ironic because it has a sudden twist that nobody expected.
    People often confuse the meaning of irony. Instead of realizing that irony is when something that is the opposite of what is expected occurs, many believe that coincidences are ironic.
    Dramatic irony is slightly different. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet took the potion to make herself seem dead. Upon seeing her, Romeo kills himself. This is dramatic irony because the audience knows that Juliet is not dead while Romeo does not. This makes Romeo have a different reaction than expected.
    The church example used in the article is definitely not ironic. It is a mere coincidence. It is very common for people to confuse irony with coincidences.

  • RH Ralls

    Yeah, Ironic by Alanis Morissette (Now, would it have been ironic had I misspelled her surname while poking fun at her song …) always bring a wry grin to me, because there is not one thing ironic in the entire song. She should have named it “Murphy’s Law” and sang “Isn’t it just bad luck, don’t you think …” because every time she sings, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think …” I always think, “No.” in a deadpan tone. LOL. The moment I saw this article I wondered if that song would get mentioned. BTW: I like the song and have bought it as a single (Now, is it ironic …). Irony is often misunderstood and mistaken for misfortune (like a black fly in your chardonnay or a death row pardon two minutes too late …)

  • Kimberly Boyer

    Ok. I think I’ve got it. The example of the man writing an article on the uselessness of Facebook and then using Facebook to post his article is not irony. It may be incongruous and is definitely hypocritical but in order to be irony the outcome must be opposite of the intent. The authors intent was to slam Facebook as being useless but it was also his intent to use Facebook to get his article read. So, the outcome didn’t surprise him. It wasn’t opposite of what he thought he was accomplishing. Now, if the article had been put on Facebook by someone else and a publisher from some famous magazine saw it on Facebook and liked it….thought it had merit etc…. and published it in his magazine, that would be ironic! The outcome of his article being published as a result of Facebook would not be what he expected. Does this make sense?

  • Steve

    You silly little Americans. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about defining irony. You will never understand it no matter how many times you read Mirriam and Webster.

    Of course there is no irony in Alanis Morrisette’s song. Or is that ironic in itself? I’ll leave you with that to ponder. Although your minds will explode before you get the correct answer.

  • venqax

    Assuming you are not a silly American, why don’t you enlighten us all as what irony is? None of the recognized authorities seem to agree, but they might be mere scholars or language experts. Not “Non-Americans” who carrying around in their heads all the wisdom that non-condition imparts to its victims.

  • The Bastard

    To Emily-You have failed to grasp irony in even the slightest of terms. In fact your testament is just another example if the failures ever present in our education system.

  • Cee Gee

    Many of the examples provided above are not ironic situations. Think of it as such: The event that caused the action was intended to do the opposite. (Think Start Wars – By setting out to save his woman, Anakin set in motion the events that killed her. If he had NOT tried to save her, she WOULD have lived.) It’s a recursive, circular kind of process. Irony has nothing to do with sarcasm, and the Facebook example is KIND OF ironic, especially if the video was boring.

  • Peter Kent

    It seems to me that many of the examples in Alanis Morrisette’s song are at least Dramatic Irony; as in “the Gods laughing at your hopes and expectations being dashed”. So I’m with Emily (seven posts up) on that at least.

  • Bree

    It’s funny, I mean, IRONIC that there are 10000’s of ironic events that occur every day and yet there’s not 1 simple explanation that can define what ‘ironic’ actually is…
    Describing irony so that it makes complete sense by stating 2 contradicting facts, that don’t actually describe a thing…?

  • Brandon Burt

    As I recall, “What is irony?” became a popular question in the late 1980s and early ’90s. It had something to do with Generation X’s struggle to define itself in spite of commercial marketing demographics and in opposition to Baby Boomers. All at once, the particular and characteristic mode of communication favored by so-called Gen-X’ers was labeled “ironic.”

    Now, those in this cohort did tend to loathe (or fear) earnestness. This fear of abject sincerity may have stemmed from childhoods steeped in emotionally manipulative but well-meaning educational and commercial campaigns. Whatever the reason, an early cynicism developed among this cohort, and its members discovered that the easiest, most risk-free way to communicate with one another was via sarcasm.

    Over a few years, a sort of code was developed for communicating whole sets of competing ideas and philosophies. It was a kind of jargon or slang, but it didn’t fit earlier “teen slang” models, because it was filled with metaphor and relied on a shared set of common experiences that seemed obscure or even threatening to media professionals (who were a bit older, and therefore excluded).

    For the lack of a better term, these media professionals labeled the Gen-X mode of communication as “ironic.” And so, for a few years, anytime anybody would say something Gen-X-ey, they’d laugh about how “ironic” it was. (“Have you read Douglas Coupland’s new novel? It’s so ironic!”) And thus the word “ironic” lost its meaning.

    But then good people stepped in and drew our attention to the fact that “irony” has a specific meaning, going back to Greek theater and philosophy, and that there’s a very specific and restrictive definition of what constitutes it. So we had to start paying attention to what is, and what isn’t, ironic.

    Of course, all this happened long before social media. In fact, the Internet was still in its relative infancy. But still, I think this is why the “What Is Irony” website could continue to fulfill a very valuable service for years to come — at least until the last remaining members of Generation X die off (probably much to the relief of Millenials).

  • Kelly Greene

    I came on this site to get a better idea for a way to best articulate the definition of “irony”; and, lol, there are nearly 3 years of explanations. Irony is something I can spot alright (I think), but cannot explain. I read the book of Esther during the feast of Purim and I believe I definitely identified some examples of irony. If anyone reads this blog to the end ever again with hopes of trying to better understand “irony”, then my “labor” is not in vain.
    In the book of Esther, an evil character, Haman, was summoned by the Persian King who wanted advice on how to honor someone who’d saved his life. He said to Haman, “What should be done for the man the king wishes to honor?” Haman, thinking that he, himself, was the “man” that the king wished to honor, advised the king to clothe this honoree with his own kingly robes and parade him through the square on the royal horse. The king approved his suggestion, and ordered him to do all that he described; only it was for another character, Mordecai. This story is wrought with irony. First, Haman was summoned by the king when he was already on his way to see him in order to persuade him that this Mordecai (someone who’d saved the king’s life earlier in this story) be hanged on a gallows that he (Haman) had built especially for this purpose. Why? Because Mordecai refused to bow to him. Also ironic, is that Mordecai was not only the man whom the king wished to honor, but he was also the cousin of Esther, Queen of Persia, whom he raised from her early childhood. In the end, Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

  • Rowan

    Okay, I hope someone has mentioned this, but let’s clarify: Expecting one outcome and having the opposite is ironic, but things can also be ironic if they do not fit that definition. There is several types of irony. Verbal, situational, and dramatic. The definition I mentioned regarding the outcome was for situational irony. Verbal irony is meaning the opposite of what you say. This on many occasions can be sarcasm, however, some sarcasm is not verbally ironic. Dramatic irony is (loosely) when the audience knows more than the character. Using some examples I’ve seen here, the Hamlet scene, if the audience knew about his killing the wrong person, would be dramatic irony. It could be situationally ironic, I do not know because I have yet to read Hamlet. Saying the weather is nice, when it is not, is verbal irony because you are meaning that it is the opposite. The puddle example was indeed a coincidence, and had hardly anything to do with expectations, so like many assumed, it was not situational irony. I have heard about another type of irony, however, I do not know enough about it to teach the ignorant commenters. I only intend to point out that people are not realizing there are multiple types of irony, and are defining it by one definition.

  • Spencer Havens

    If irony can be the misuse of a word for something other than its literal meaning, then doesn’t misusing irony make it ironic? I mean if you use the word irony to mean something other then it should, at that point doesn’t the word itself become ironic? So isn’t it difficult to actually misuse the word irony without making a conscious effort to?

  • Donny Ray

    Irony is simply “SARCASTIC HUMOR.” Think about it…the Facebook comment at the top is meant to be funny. This type of stuff is in practically every TVshow we watch…they’re filled with it and we eat it up. Not all Irony is funny to people thus taking the lower % on the “POPULAR SCALE RATIO”…but to be honest if there wasn’t any ever opposed life wouldn’t be as much fun….Ironically irony is why you are…who you are.

  • Sinvanor

    I think irony has come to mean this.
    “Coincidence or events that happen in correlation to the least desired results or least expected.” (Feel free to change that around anyway you want to make it make more sense. I’m by no means an expert on coming up with concise definitions or indeed explaining what I mean through just words instead of direct examples.)
    Meaning, rain on your wedding day if you wanted it to be sunny or it was supposed to be sunny, would fit in this description.
    The irony implied not needing to be directly opposite or the worst possible thing, but still an undesired outcome.

    There should just be a new term that means that if ironic is technically incorrect that goes in the vein of the term “That figures” used sardonically.

    The one that confused me the most was the paying for a bus that you find out was actually free. That seems like irony, but I would rather know if there is a proper term for that phenomenon.

    I agree with the person who said irony is in the same line as sarcasm, but usually refers to events that happen or should of happened as opposed to linguistical usage.

    Overall I would say irony has to do with expectation vs the opposite or something undesired happening instead.
    It’s usually a negative thing that either infuriates or makes someone think sarcastically how good it is to of happened.
    Someone pointed out that a traffic jam when already late doesn’t work because you did not expect there to be one. There was no expectation that the road would be clear, but it does go into the realm of “it figures” thinking, which I insist needs a term by itself. Because saying “It was so it figures that a traffic jam happened when I was already late.” just doesn’t work. People instead want to use “It was so ironic that a traffic jam happened when I was already late.” mostly because they don’t know what to use.
    I guess sardonically typical works, though it doesn’t flow well implying that it is an undesired outcome, but did not hold previous expectation for the outcome.

    Grrr, if anyone thinks of a good term, let me know. It’s annoying to be using words wrong that way, even if language is evolving and fluid, it sucks when meanings change due to a misunderstanding outright rather then morphing overtime.

  • Sephor

    After reading all of the comments, I am so confused.

  • Vid

    Wow… a lot of ‘jibber jabber’ from a lot of brainiacs… the history of irony and and different types of irony… how people don’t understand it… and people trying to explain what it is…

    that last post….

    “I guess sardonically typical works, though it doesn’t flow well implying that it is an undesired outcome, but did not hold previous expectation for the outcome.”


    Use it in a sentence… give us an example… please.

  • Deborah Johnson

    Legal slavery within a free country is ironic

  • Mike

    The dictionary has: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

    I think that’s the key, the incongruity. For example:

    A dog-catcher being hit by a truck hauling furniture is not ironic, just unfortunate.

    A dog-catcher being hit by a truck that is taking dogs to a local pet shop is closer to ironic, while also unfortunate.

    It’s the humorous aspect that I think some may not grasp. Irony isn’t simply a matter of misfortune. It is a misfortune that is incongruous, and therefore has a twinge of humor to it. The Far Side comic strip was full of irony, and some people ‘got it,’ while others did not. It’s the whole Coyote/Roadrunner scenario. It’s a bitter-sweet sort of thing.

  • Paulah May

    irony is the opposite of wrinkly.

  • Graham

    Would this class as irony? Your football team gets a penalty. Convinced that your teams regular taker will miss, you take it yourself and miss anyway

  • Melissa

    I find it ironic that I come here to receive clarity regarding the use and definition of irony with other people that would seemingly like to do the same and then there are so many people not willing to accept the correct answer. HaHaHa :’)

  • Matt

    Procrastinators’ Meeting.

    I’m assuming there is more than one procrastinator. Also: not ironic.

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