Irony – Rhetorical stylistic devices

What is irony?

Irony is a rhetorical stylistic device that signifies improper speech: to understand what is meant, it is therefore necessary to turn the speaker’s statement into its exact opposite. Since irony can often be unambiguously decoded only by means of verbal signals (“distorted” voice, undertone) or nonverbal signals (facial expressions, gestures), this stylistic device is used primarily in colloquial language – yet irony is also in every literary genre Find.

The term irony

The term irony is derived from the Greek word eironeia, which roughly corresponds to the meaning of “pretense” or “dissimulation.” Consequently, the trait of irony is already fairly well represented by Greek origin.

Examples for a better understanding

Since an ironic speaker makes a statement that contradicts his beliefs or even the obvious facts, the listener is required a mental leap in order to get on the track of what is actually meant. In everyday life, however, the knowledge of the situational background is often enough to recognize an ironic saying without doubt.

example 1

Family Meier is on the way to the beach with bag and bag, when suddenly it begins to rain heavily. “That’s great weather!” The father sighs.

Noting that the family is planning a day in the sun, it is self-explanatory that the father’s phrase is an ironic statement. If it were in principle quite conceivable that the Meier family can even get excited about a rain shower, the bad weather in this special case simply has to stand in the way of the hoped-for bathing fun. On top of that, the sigh is another indication that the rain is in fact anything but great.

If it were not necessary to understand the first example, to be familiar with the special preferences and idiosyncrasies of the Meier family, in many other cases a common knowledge or a consistent background of experiences is required to make a statement truly unequivocally ironic identify.

Example 2

With a beating heart Kira has finally decided to part with her long hair. “Great hairstyle,” yells Julia, who happens to meet her on the way home.

Now Kira is to be wished that Julia really means the compliment sincerely. But if Julia is not one of her better friends, this statement should lead to a sense of insecurity. If in this case the person concerned is not fully aware of the possible ironic content of the statement, it is practically impossible for outsiders to come to a reasoned judgment. For the decryption the knowledge is required, in which relationship the two girls stand to each other.

What is the function of irony?

Image result for ironyIf it seems at first absurd that a speaker makes the understanding of his statements more difficult by the use of irony, the two illustrated examples already point to typical reasons for the use of this rhetorical agent. Thus, in the first case, by the words of the father for a loosening of the basically annoying situation provided. Irony can help spur communication with more variety, originality and wit.

If in the second example the regrettable case is assumed that Julia also ironically means her statement, this stylistic device is used as a deliberate encryption of what is actually intended. In addition, the irony of distancing and demarcation can serve – and thus also fulfill an identity-creating function. If, for the understanding of irony, a very special common knowledge between speaker and receiver is required, the interlocutors identify themselves as having a successful communication (in this case recognizing the ironic meaning) as a common group – for example of scientists, music lovers or allotment gardeners ,

Differentiation to sarcasm and cynicism

The stylistic device of irony has certain similarities to both sarcasm and cynicism , which can occasionally lead to confusion in everyday language. Above all, however, due to the different directions of impact, the three terms can be distinguished relatively clearly from each other.

For the time being, irony is value-neutral as a linguistic means of expression. This means that the ironic statement can convey positive, negative or even neutral messages depending on the situation.

Although sarcastic expressions are often dressed in an ironic guise, they always have a mocking or even scornful background. A sarcastic speaker always opposes the recipient with a negative connotation.

The term cynicism , on the other hand, is used to describe a mental attitude that does not care about norms and social conventions, and ridicules these – among other things with the help of irony – in a manner that is often personally hurtful.

Irony in texts

In writing, the understanding of ironic utterances is always hampered by the lack of nonverbal means of communication. If the irony in conversations is identified, among other things, on the basis of “associated” facial expressions and gestures, this stylistic device in all literary genres can usually only be identified by the communication of the situational background. Often, however, the author presupposes shared world or specialist knowledge with the reader.

However, the now-inflationary use of emoticons is a proof that ironic statements in texts are often misunderstood. Since misinterpretations, especially in personal correspondence, often lead to angry reactions, emoticons have gained in importance in modern communication from the e-mail to the WhatsApp message as an indication of ironic statements.