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Pet Peeves: Irony

Irony is a word I often hear people say, yet they seem to think it means “interesting” or “unexpected.” Neither is correct. If we looks at the dictionary definition…

irony: a strange, funny, or sad situation in which things happen in the opposite way to what you would expect

So something that is ironic is unexpected, but something unexpected is not necessarily ironic in the same way that a duck is a bird, but a bird is not necessarily a duck.

In a conversation I had with a friend of mine, the problems with pointing out bad grammar can be seen:

Friend: So I went into the drug store and ironically I met my aunt there.
Me: Is the drug store the one place you’d never expect to find your aunt?
Friend: No.
Me: Did you go into the drug store to avoid meeting your aunt?
Friend: No
Me: Then I don’t understand the statement. That’s not irony.
Friend: Don’t be a jerk.

However, if you don’t use irony correctly when writing then, not only are you creating a permanent record of your ignorance of grammar, but you may be teaching those who read your work the wrong lessons.

Let’s look at the three main ways in which we can express irony in our writing.

1) Verbal irony: when someone says something that is the opposite of what they really mean.

“I completely trust you with my car,” Jake said as his discreetly hid the car keys.

2) Situational irony: when a situation is contrary to what you intended or expected to have happen.

Going out to the country to avoid the noises of the city and get a good night’s sleep, only to be kept awake by all the foreign noises of nature.

3) Dramatic irony: when the reader (or audience) knows something that the character does not

Running away from a monster, Jake hides in a cave that we know to be the monster’s lair.

One of the most annoying examples of ignorance of irony is Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic.” While I like the melody, nothing it the song is ironic. The song should be called “unfortunate.”

Do you have any favourite authors who use irony in their stories?