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Often referred to as the 'lowest form of wit', sarcasm is sometimes confused with irony. Sarcasm involves a composer (most commonly a speaker) saying something that is the opposite of what they really mean. The important difference between the two is that sarcasm is correctly defined as being humorous and deliberately mocking or insulting the object or person towards whom it is directed. Sarcasm is most commonly used in spoken texts. In written texts, sarcasm can be expressed like this:

'Yeah RIGHT! Like THAT'S going to happen'.

or, more formally, or on a word processor,

'Yeah right! Like that's going to happen'.

Text One

Each example attempts to replicate the vocal (spoken) intonation that denotes (indicates or shows the reader) that sarcasm is being used.

Verbal Irony

There are a number of forms of irony. In its simplest definition, irony occurs when what is said (verbal) is in contradiction to what is meant. Again, this should not be confused with sarcasm. Irony does not need to be as mocking or insulting as sarcasm. Some examples of simple irony include:

Example One
'I am really very good at golf'. When the speaker is clearly not and knows it.

Example Two
'It has been a warm summer'. When it has been cold and raining every day.

Text Two

Irony such as this is used by composers or speakers to emphasise their points. Where a literal, non-ironic statement for Example One would be 'I am not very good at golf' the speaker is not merely stating the obvious but overstating it. The same applies in Example Two. It can be noted that this type of verbal irony has a similar effect as hyperbole because it serves as an exaggeration of the point that the composer is making.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is often used in comic strips and sketch shows. This is a humorous device. The humour arises because the viewer is surprised by a link between images or ideas that seem unlikely or contradictory (the opposite of what one would expect.) 'The Far Side' by Gary Larson and 'Non-Sequitur' (a comic strip that you will find in major newspapers) are examples of cartoons and comic strips that rely on situational irony for their humour. Some examples of situational irony are demonstrated below:

While I was on the bus the other day I noticed a sign that read 'If you want to find out about fare-saving deals, ask your bus driver.' Beneath it was another sign that read 'Do not talk to the bus driver.'

Text Three

In this example there is a difference between what the viewer expects to see and what is presented.

Irony of fate

Irony of fate occurs when the outcome of a person's life or endeavours contradicts the person, the person's actions or what they believe in:

Example One

Beethoven became deaf.'

This is an irony of fate because the reader assumes that hearing and listening is an important aspect of composing music.

Text Four

This example is ironic in that there is a contradiction in what the reader/viewer assumes and what occurs. It is this surprise that make it either moving or humorous or both.

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is a form of irony that you will study very closely, particularly when you are studying Shakespearean and other plays. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not. A common example is in 'thriller films' when the audience is aware that the killer is waiting around the corner but the character is unsuspecting. This has the effect of creating tension and suspense. Here are some other examples:

Example One

From 'Romeo and Juliet' the audience knows that Romeo is about to wake up. Juliet, however, does not know (dramatic irony) and subsequently kills herself.

Text Five


Example Two

The students huddled behind the door waiting in anticipation. The bucket they had filled with water sat perilously atop the slightly-ajar door to the classroom. They could hear their teacher's footsteps approaching on the linoleum in the hallway - 'click, clack' 'click, clack'. Some of the students started giggling uncontrollably - 'shhhh' said the others, 'she'll hear you!' Then the door moved slightly, slightly...CRASH! SPLASH! And the students rolled around on the ground laughing at the sight of their soaking wet teacher.

Text Six

In Text Five both the audience and the conspiring characters are aware of what is going to happen while the unsuspecting victim does not.

Refer to the 'How well do you know irony?' animation for practice with irony.


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