02 Sep What is Verbal Irony? Definition and Examples
Verbal irony is one of the three main types of irony. In this post, we’ll focus on examples of verbal irony and its sub-types. Kindly read further, and leave no detail skipped.
Because it is directly related to language, which we use every day, verbal irony is the most common type of irony. But what exactly is verbal irony, and what are its various subtypes?
We’ll answer those questions by looking at how verbal irony can add depth and complexity to dialogue, and thus to characters.
In this article, we will define verbal irony and discuss how it can be used in screenwriting.
Introducing Verbal Irony
First and foremost, we must define verbal irony. We use it all the time, and while the definition is straightforward, there are some nuances to consider.
In its most basic form, verbal irony occurs when someone says the opposite of what they mean. In the video below, educator Christopher Warner defines the term in his own words.
It’s important to understand that verbal irony is not the same as sarcasm. Sarcasm is when verbal irony is used deliberately to emphasize something.
If person A touches person B’s hair, for example, person A may say, “I love it when you do that.” If the context indicates that they mean the opposite, we can say they were being verbally ironic.
If Person A says “I LOVE when YOU do that!” In a sarcastic tone, we can conclude that they were using sarcasm to emphasize how much they actually despise it.
It can be difficult to tell the difference at times, but hopefully, our examples will help. Let’s define verbal irony and then look at some verbal irony examples.
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What is Verbal Irony?
You are engaging in verbal irony when you say something that is not what you mean. The speaker does this on purpose, often in the hope that the listener or audience will recognize the presence of irony.
It should be noted that verbal irony is not the same as lying. A lie is a deceptive falsehood. This type of irony is far less sinister.
Types of Verbal Irony
Different Kinds of Verbal Irony
Verbal irony can be used in a variety of situations. We may come across it in casual conversation, in the media, or in literature.
Verbal irony frequently adds levity to a situation, exposes double entendres, or mocks a situation.
Many people associate verbal irony with sarcasm, but sarcasm is only one of several types of verbal irony. It takes four basic forms:
2. Stable and unstable
3. Understatement and overstatement
4. Socratic irony.
Sarcasm is a verbal irony intended to mock or hurt one’s feelings. It is verbal irony with an attitude intended to hurt or mock someone. Cruelty can range from light-hearted joking to outright nasty.
Examples of Sarcasm are:
He read so hard that he couldn’t pass any of his exams.
Ana is such a rich man that he begs his friends for everything.
Stable vs. Unstable Irony
The distinction between stable and unstable irony is critical in determining an author’s voice. But what do the three terms actually mean?
1. Stable irony is a type of verbal irony in which the author’s voice can be inferred by the reader.
2. The unstable irony is a type of verbal irony in which the author’s voice is not discernible to the reader.
3. The voice of an author is what we interpret as the author’s true feelings about their work.
All of this is subjective, and it all falls under the purview of literary criticism. Many literary scholars argue that we cannot interpret an author’s voice solely based on what they write.
Others argue that we can only interpret an author’s voice based on what they write. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to look at the distinction between stable and unstable irony.
The most important thing to remember is that your words will have an effect on the reader.
That doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you write, especially if it’s fiction, but it does mean you have to acknowledge that some people may interpret it that way.
Understatement vs. Overstatement
Understatement and overstatement are two ways to use verbal irony. But what exactly is the difference between understatement and overstatement?
Understatement is when something is minimized, and overstatement is when something is exaggerated.
For instance, if it’s 100 degrees outside and someone says, “It’s a little warm,” they’re exaggerating. On the contrary, they exaggerate when they say, “It’s hotter than the sun out here!”
First, consider understatement. We know from The Wizard of Oz that Oz is not the same as Kansas. We can see it for ourselves the moment Dorothy walks through the door into a world of technicolor oddities.
Socratic irony is when you pretend to be ignorant in order to elicit information from someone (i.e., “playing dumb”). For instance, when your parents are aware of the truth but play dumb in order to trap you in a lie.
This is where the concept of irony was born, named after a Greek character named Eiron, who defeated his opponent by using a wit disguised as ignorance.
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To drive home our view on verbal irony, we have established above that verbal irony is a type of irony where a speaker says the exact opposite of what he or she means, either for the sake of correcting, mocking or hurting the subject of the statement.
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