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Information about irony

Published on June 15, 2007

Author: Haggrid


IRONY:  IRONY by Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L. F. Nilsen GREEK EIRON:  GREEK EIRON The word irony is related to the Greek eiron meaning 'dissembler in speech.' In modern usage it commonly refers to speech incidents in which the intended meaning of the words is contrary to their literal interpretation or to the expected meaning. In conversations, people are often aware that they are being ironic when, for example, they want to change the subject and they begin with, 'Not to change the subject, but….' Similarly, a speaker who wants to emphasize a point he is making starts with fake humility: 'Far be it from me to say, but …..' Someone with an unproven argument might begin with, 'Clearly …', or 'As is well known….' (Nilsen Encyclopedia 168) JOHNNY CARSON:  JOHNNY CARSON Johnny Carson kept a toilet company from using the 'Here’s Johnny' as a trademark. They had the slogan, 'The World’s Foremost Commodian.' The judge decided in favor of Carson not because of an invasion of privacy, or because of a demeaning of the plaintiff’s reputation, but because the 'Here’s Johnny' toilets might be confused with the 'Here’s Johnny' clothing and restaurants. (Nilsen andamp; Nilsen 190) DRAMATIC IRONY:  DRAMATIC IRONY Dramatic irony occurs when the audience members know things that the characters do not know. Slide5:  In George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, Unterschaft asks Bilton, the foreman, if anything is wrong, and Bilton responds that a 'gentleman walked into the shed and lit a cigarette, sir; that’s all.' The stage directions are that Bilton is to say this 'with ironic calm.' The irony is obvious only when the audience learns that the shed is filled with high explosives. (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169) Slide6:  Jerzy Kosinski’s novel and the movie Being There. is about a mentally disabled gardener named Chauncey Gardner. Those around him treat him as though he is a sage and a great visionary. They supply grandiose metaphorical meanings for what are the simple and sometimes inane observations of an ordinary gardener. (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169) HISTORY OF IRONY:  HISTORY OF IRONY The period in literary history in which irony was most developed was the Age of the Enlightenment, the time of Voltaire, Hume, Pope, Dryden, Swift, Addison, Steele, and Diderot However, irony has been included in literature throughout history. In Chaucer’s 14th-century Canterbury Tales, an unhappily married merchant grandly praises marriage. Slide8:  In William Shakespeare’s 16th-century Julius Caesar, Marc Antony’s extravagant praise of Caesar is ironic. Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century 'Modest Proposal' that the English begin eating Irish babies was in no sense modest. An additional irony is that some of Swift’s opponents read his ironic proposal as legitimate rather than ironic and attempted to have Swift committed as mentally ill. (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169) IRONY VS. SATIRE:  IRONY VS. SATIRE Critic Northrop Frye makes a distinction between satire and irony. He says that satire is a criticism of society with a clear understanding in the author’s mind of what society should be like, but is not. The author of a satire hopes to persuade readers to work for the author’s vision as does C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters. Those who create gallows humor and irony do not intend to point their readers in a particular direction, but instead to leave them in doubt. As Frye says, 'Whenever a reader is not sure what the author’s attitude is or what his own is supposed to be, we have irony with relatively little satire' (Frye 131-239). LINGUISTIC VS. SITUATIONAL IRONY:  LINGUISTIC VS. SITUATIONAL IRONY Many modern critics make only the two-way distinction between linguistic and situational irony. Linguistic irony requires a sender and a receiver, while situational irony requires only an observer with a clever mind as when Lily Tomlin buys a waste basket. The clerk puts it into a paper sack so she can take it home, and the first thing Tomlin does when she gets home is to put the paper sack into the waste basket. Derek Evans and Dave Fulwiler’s Who’s Nobody in America is filled with such ironic complaints as the one from James M. Gatwood of San Ramon, California. In seven visits to his dentist he spent $2,800 and the dentist still calls him Sidney. Gatwood asks in frustration, 'Who the hell is Sidney?' (Nilsen Encyclopedia 168) Slide11:  There is double irony in O. Henry’s story 'The Gift of the Magi' in which a husband sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair and she sells her hair to buy a gold chain for his watch. This is similar to the joke about the two friends, one a Catholic and one a Protestant, who try to convert each other. They present such convincing arguments that the Protestant becomes a Catholic and the Catholic becomes a Protestant. (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169). !SOCRATIC IRONY:  !SOCRATIC IRONY Socratic irony occurs when a person pretends to be ignorant and willing to learn from another, but then asks adroit questions that expose the weaknesses in the other person’s argument. (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169) !!STABLE IRONY VS. OBSERVABLE IRONY:  !!STABLE IRONY VS. OBSERVABLE IRONY Literary critic Wayne Booth uses the term stable irony to refer to that which humans create to be heard or read and understood with some precision. He says that stable ironies allow readers glimpses into authors’ most private thoughts. An example of Observable irony is when a premature monsoon ruins an army’s invasion plans or lightning strikes just as a preacher raises his arms to make a dramatic point about God. In such situations, all that is needed is an aware observer. Writers and dramatists often work such observable ironies into their plots (Nilsen Encyclopedia 169). !!!TRAGIC IRONY:  !!!TRAGIC IRONY Tragic irony is used for situations where there are terrible consequences, as in the Greek drama Oedipus Rex. Slide15:  References # 1: Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Irony. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974. Falletta, Nicholas. The Paradoxicon. New York, NY: Wiley, 1983. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ Press, 1957. Handwerk, Gary J. Irony and Ethics in Narrative: From Shlegel to Lacan. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ Press, 1985. Good, Edwin M. Irony in the Old Testament. Sheffield, England: Almond, 1981. Slide16:  References # 2: Gurewitch, Morton. The Ironic Temper and the Comic Imagination. Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univ Press, 1994. Holland, Glenn S. Divine Irony. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna Univ Press, 2004. Muecke, Douglas Colin. Irony and the Ironic. New York, NY: Methuen, 1980. Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. Nilsen, Don L. F., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. 'Irony.' Comedy: A Geographic and Historical Guide, Volume II. Ed. Maurice Charney. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005, 394-409.

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