Word Nerd Wednesday – Irony


Humour is a funny thing, isn’t it? And believe it or not, I didn’t originally intend for that statement to be a pun! 😁

Like most people, I love a good laugh, but the very same scene that makes me break out into gut-busting laughter may simply draw a raised eyebrow from someone else. Something that has me snickering into my hand may leave someone else scratching their head.

Most of the time I would just brush it off as different personalities and move on, but when you’re trying to review a book and help other readers work out whether they would also enjoy the humour, how do you describe it?

I’ve faced this dilemma more than once as a reviewer. Is it situational comedy? Is it sarcastic? Sardonic?  Satirical? (Why do these all start with ‘s’?) Witty? (Ah, there we go.) Self-deprecating? (Oops. Spoke too soon!) A healthy appreciation for the ridiculous? Or maybe irony? And how many people really understand the distinctions between them anyway?

Hence, today’s post. 🙂 Although we’ll only be attempting to cover one of these types of humour today!

So. Irony. First of all, let’s clear up one thing. Ironic is NOT synonymous with the phrases ‘how odd’ or ‘what a strange coincidence!’ No, no, no!

The Cambridge Dictionary defines irony as:

(i) a situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result has the opposite or a very different result.
(ii) the use of words that are the opposite of what you mean, as a way of being funny.

So, an example of the first type of irony that I’m pretty sure everyone can relate to is choosing the shortest queue at the checkout so that you can get out sooner, only to find that your line moves more slowly than all the others. You know the story. Someone in front of you didn’t notice the faulty product until they reached the checkout, and of course then someone has to go to the other side of the store to get a replacement, but they’re having trouble finding another one in that brand, and could you just wait a minute while they check out the back . . . *sigh*

Or maybe you offer to help zip up your best friend’s dress only to snag the zipper and spend the next five minutes trying to unsnag it. Oh, the irony! Perhaps she’ll just do it herself next time!

These are the kind of situations where you have to laugh, otherwise you’d cry. Or at least stick that bottom lip out in a decent-sized pout!

The second type of irony—irony of speech—is something we Aussies have thoroughly embraced. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear a red-head called ‘Bluey’ or the tallest guy in the group referred to as ‘shorty’. It’s basically saying the opposite of what you mean, just because it’s funnier.

It’s worth pointing out here that there’s a fine line between irony and sarcasm, and it all comes down to intent and tone of voice. If you look out of the window at the pouring rain and remark, “Great day for a walk,” in very pleasant tones, as though you’re just passing the time of day, you’ve just used used irony. If you look out the same window at the same rain and remark, “Great day for a walk,” in a tone of voice that has a bit of bite to it (because, actually, you really would have liked to go for a walk, and thank you so much, weather, for ruining those plans), then you’ve used sarcasm. Sarcasm is intended to criticize or to hurt. Irony can be delivered in such a pleasant, offhand way that listeners may be unsure whether you’re serious or not.

But there is another form of irony I must mention, and in order to illustrate it, I’m going to enlist the help of a particular character you will have met if you were hanging around my blog last week: Drew Farthering.  In his latest adventure, Death at Thorburn Hall, we meet a gentleman (loosely speaking!) by the name of Count Mikhail Yevgeni Kazimir Sevastyan Kuznetsov—nimble of both finger and tongue. But he’s met his match in Drew. When conversing with Kuznetsov, Drew makes use of irony, firstly, by speaking as though he believes Kuznetsov’s protestations of innocence, even though they both know Drew hasn’t been fooled for a second:

The Russian pursed his lips and then seemed to wilt. “Ah, the grand and glorious days are gone. Noblemen are no longer allowed to defend their honor with their lives and must bear whatever insult is cast upon them.”
Drew managed to look sympathetic. “It is a trial, no doubt.”

Drew, of course, meant nothing of the sort when he agreed it was a trial. Nor did he believe for one minute that any of Kuznetsov’s actions had been accidental when he said:

“In the meantime, you see that nothing else accidentally finds its way into your pockets. Agreed?”

But this kind of irony through pretense reaches its fullest expression in something called Socratic irony. I can’t tell you how many kinds of geeky excited I was when I discovered this is actually a thing. Socratic irony is defined by Merriam Webster as:

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.

What a mouthful, huh? In other words, it’s taking the other person’s words at face value, but only so you can question them with the aim of exposing the flaws in the story or argument. It’s so called because this was the technique employed by the Greek philosopher Socrates in order to highlight the weaknesses in his opponents’ arguments or to get them to think through all the implications of their statements. And it’s a technique that has been employed by many an investigator since—including Drew.

Here is an excerpt from a scene where Kuznetsov tries to convince Drew that he really had been a Russian count in the court of Tsar Nicholas the Second:

Kuznetsov covered his eyes with one languid hand. “It was horrible. I was thrown in with the dead, shot through the shoulder and arm and side, and grazed along the temple. I was driven nearly mad, returning to consciousness only to find myself wrapped in some sort of coarse cloth and smothered with earth. I could not even scream.”
Drew nodded patiently. “And yet here you are.”
“It was my great good fortune that three passing peasants heard me and managed to free me before I perished of pure fright.”
“They heard you not screaming?”
Kuznetsov pursed his lips. “I did the best I could to make it known I was yet alive. Fortunately, the Bolsheviki were as incompetent at burial details as they were at most everything else and there was no more than a foot of earth covering me. The peasants quickly dug me out and put me in their cart, covered over the grave again and smuggled me away to freedom.”
Drew nodded. “You weren’t pursued?”
“No. I spent months in the most hideous of peasant dwellings, recovering somehow despite the dearth of proper food or sanitation. When I was well again, I was smuggled into Poland and eventually made my way into Germany and then France. It was nearly a year between the time I left Russia and found my way to your England.”
“And the Bolsheviks never caught you again?”
Kuznetsov looked piously to the heavens. “I thank God.”
“That’s quite a tale,” Drew said, a slight smile touching his lips.

This is the kind of irony that has me laughing on the inside. It’s like sharing a secret joke with the character. And I can tell you, that’s not the whole story for this count. Not by a long shot! Drew gets plenty of other opportunities to put his polite British irony to use!

So, that’s the world of irony folks; a world where nothing means what you think it means!

How about you? Are you a fan of irony? Don’t get it? Or maybe somewhere in between?


About Fiction Aficionado

Homeschooling mum, word lover, reader extraordinaire, and follower of Christ
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10 Responses to Word Nerd Wednesday – Irony

  1. This post was very interesting. And your Drew Farthering plugs are great! 😀
    I think the Alanis Morissette song does the word ‘ironic’ justice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. deannadodson says:

    Hee hee . . . I’m glad you appreciate Drew’s ironic sense of humor. Of course, he’s going to grow terribly vain about all the attention he’s been getting. But not to worry. Madeline will take him down a peg or two when needed. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Winnie Thomas says:

    What a fun and informative post, Katie! I loved reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

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