Posts Tagged ‘Alanis Morissette’

The Three Types of Irony and an Amusing Teacher Story

December 4, 2010

Coincidence is NOT irony

As George Carlin and others have pointed out, sportscasters, particularly baseball announcers, have an irony problem. Many of them simply don’t understand what the word means. Usually they mistake coincidence for situational irony. For example, an announcer might say,

“It’s ironic that Stubby McGillicutty broke the single season RBI record in Anaheim where Angel great Jackie Fullcup, whose record McGillicutty broke, spent his entire career.”

No. IT’S COINCIDENTAL.

The Three Types of Irony

1) Verbal IronySaying what you DON’T mean

Definition: A speaker means something different than, often the opposite of, what she says.

Examples:

“I can’t wait to start writing these forty-seven reports.”

“My walk home was only twenty-three blocks.”

(Note: The terms sarcasm and irony are often used interchangeably, but there is a semantic difference. Sarcasm is meant to insult or cause harm. So strictly speaking, “Great, I forgot my umbrella” is ironic, whereas “You call this a cup of coffee?” is sarcastic.)

2) Situational IronyThe gods are laughing at me by giving me ten thousand spoons when I just need a knife.*

Definition: When the outcome of actions or events is different than the desired or expected result

Examples:

If Dave died because he was allergic to the antibiotics that were supposed to save him, he is not merely a victim of bad luck. There is an oddly perverse poetry in Dave’s plight. Such a phenomenon as situational irony would only occur to a species which has a concept of fairness and a tendency to automatically anthropomorphize Fate.

The Psychic Friends Network went bankrupt due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

(George Carlin’s marvelous book Brain Droppings has some wonderful examples of situational irony, particularly the one about the Kurd who survives a brutal attack by Saddam Hussein at the end of the First Gulf War and escapes over the mountains only to be crushed by an airdropped box of humanitarian aid. If you want to teach Carlin on situational irony, however, be prepared to explain about the Kurds and the first Gulf War and to tell them who Darryl Stingley was.)

3) Dramatic IronyThe reader or audience knows something fictional characters don’t

Definition: When we say something is ironic we almost never mean dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader or audience has important knowledge which is withheld from a character or characters in a story, a movie, or a play.

The most obvious example of this is when the young lady in the slasher flick doesn’t realize that the guy in the hockey mask with the meat cleaver is hiding behind the hot tub—but we do.

Perhaps a more erudite example would be that the audience knows who Oedipus Rex’s parents really are.

* From the song Ironic by Alanis Morissette which can be a good teaching tool because it contains some hits and several misses. (Rain on your wedding day is simply a case of bad luck unless you are having an outdoor wedding in Southern California in June and all your bridesmaids are wearing paper dresses.) The song has been much-derided by English teachers because it contains one example of verbal irony, four examples of situational irony, six examples of bad luck, two examples of stupidity and one example of coincidence.

Evaluation

State whether the following are examples of verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony or not ironic in any way.

1. “Oh, great! It’s raining and I forgot my umbrella.”

2. I failed the test because I did not study.

3. Dave’s blood pressure medication gave him a heart attack.

4. Batman doesn’t know that the Joker is waiting for him, but the audience does.

5. Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly SLO are both located in California.

6. The box of airdropped humanitarian aid landed on the refugee and killed him.

7. I missed the job interview because I overslept.

8. “Thank you for this ticket, Officer. You just made my day.”

9. Three celebrities died in three separate plane crashes yesterday.

10. “I heard that sun block causes cancer.”

An Amusing Teacher Story (which is in no way ironic)

I made a class of college freshman read Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. At the end of the quarter we watched some videos of stories from the book which were introduced by the author. Before class a student came up to me and asked how the man in the video could be Vonnegut when it says on the book jacket that he is “our finest black-humorist.” I explained that there are people who practice dark humor and there are also African-American humorists.

Richard W. Bray