If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:58

Video transcript

- [David] Hello, grammarians. Today I wanna talk about the concept of irony, which is a very difficult concept to nail down because it means so many things. But let's begin with the best definition I can muster, which is that irony is the difference between expectation and result. Now, this contains a lot within it. So, that means that irony is not only the engine of surprise, but also jokes. All jokes in English function on this engine of the difference between expectation and result. You expect to hear one thing and then a joke plays with your expectations. There's nothing less funny than explaining why things are funny. But this is why things are funny. So, today we're gonna talk about three different kinds of irony. And I'm going to give you an example of each. Now, the first kind is called situational irony. In situational irony, everyone is aware of the discrepancy of the difference between expectation and result. And a really classic example of this is the O. Henry short story The Gift of the Magi. And it's about a couple who are very poor, but who love each other very much. And each one wants to get the other a really nice Christmas present. The man has a very lovely watch and the woman has really lovely long hair. And, unbeknownst to the other, the woman buys her husband a watch chain and the man buys his wife a comb. But, in order to do that, he sells his watch to buy her the comb and, in order to buy him the watch chain, the woman sells her hair. And so, they give each other gifts that are now useless. This watch chain and this comb. For the hair that isn't there and the watch that isn't there. And the irony is that they are now aware that the lengths that they went to for the other kind of ruined each other's gifts. That's situational irony. It's kind of a happy ending, 'cause it proves stuff is just stuff and they love each other very much. That's situational irony. Everyone is aware of the discrepancy. Irony variant number two is called dramatic irony. This means that there's an unevenly distributed awareness of the difference. Specifically, that there's an audience. So, this is the sort of thing that really only comes into play in fiction or in dramatic work. So, we're talking about a play or a movie or whatever. So, let's say we've got a play. Here's our stage. Here's our audience down here. We have one character here, character A, who really doesn't like bears and is talking about if he ever meets a bear, he's probably gonna punch that bear right in the face. And here is character B, who is a bear, but is a bear in disguise wearing a hat and a tie. Now, character B knows that character B is a bear. The audience knows that character B is a bear. Character A is unaware. So, we have this unevenly distributed awareness of the difference between expectation and result. Character A expects that character B is not a bear. But character B and the audience knows that the opposite is true. That's dramatic irony. Now, the third kind of irony we're going to talk about today is called verbal irony. So, the irony of words. And this one's a little different, because verbal irony is the difference between a stated meaning and an actual meaning. And this means that it can come in a couple of flavors. The most notable, and perhaps the most confusing, is called sarcasm. And sarcasm is when you say a thing, but it actually ends up meaning something quite different, usually the opposite. So, let's say an anvil, very heavy metal object, falls on my foot, breaks my foot. I am in extraordinary pain. If you asked me how I was doing and I wanted to use sarcasm, I would say something like, "Oh, I'm just great." And I'm signaling, with my tone and also context, to indicate that the opposite is true. To say, "I'm actually terrible. My foot is broken." That's sarcasm. Now, related to sarcasm is the pun, which is usually a joke that plays on multiple meanings. So, again, let's take this case. Let's say my foot was crushed by an anvil You ask me how I'm doing. I would say, "I'm feeling a little flat today." No, not a great joke, sure. But what I'm trying to express is that I am both playing on the notion that I don't feel well, I feel a little flat, and that my foot has been squished by a heavy object, literally rendering it flat. That's what a pun is. And, again, I recognize that, by explaining the joke, I have made the joke unfunny. I apologize. So, to review, let's put all of these together into one giant ironic situation. So, let's say you're watching a sitcom on television. And this sitcom takes place in someone's apartment and that apartment has a thing called a Murphy bed. Now, what a Murphy bed is is a bed that folds up into the wall to save space in a small apartment. It's got this little handle up here. You grab it, you pull it down, it becomes just a regular bed. Otherwise, it's kept folded up into the wall. So, let's say we're watching a sitcom that takes place in a small apartment that has a Murphy bed. Let's say that our main character has just come home from the airport with her visiting cousin. So, again, this is a sitcom. This is all happening on your television. So, this is all inside the frame. Now, unbeknownst to our protagonist, let's call her Anna, and her cousin, let's call her Bella, a lion has crawled into the Murphy bed while the two of them were out. I promise this has a point. So, hidden behind this wall is a lion on top of this bed. Now, ignorant of all of this, Bella asks her cousin "Is the Murphy bed comfortable?" To which Anna replies "Yeah. It's perfect for lyin' on." I think you see where I'm going here. So, dramatic irony. We, the audience on the other side of the screen, are aware that this entire that this entire time there's a lion hiding in the Murphy bed. We know this. Anna and Bella do not. Bella asks if the bed is comfortable. Anna assures her that it is. We know, as the audience, it is not. There is a dangerous savanna predator in the bed. That's dramatic irony. Situational irony, when they pull that Murphy bed down and expose the lion, they will see the difference between these expectations and this result. And that is situational irony. You thought one thing was true and now something very different has happened. That's the difference between expectation and result. Beds don't usually have lions in them. You expect them not to have lions in them. You pull down the bed. Boom, there's a lion in it. Situational irony. Finally, it's perfect for lyin' on. Now, Anna does not realize this, but she is unwittingly punning on the fact that there is a lion on the Murphy bed. So, this is verbal irony. Because, in fact, there is a lion lyin' on the bed. So, there you have it. Encapsulated in one ridiculous case, here are all three basic examples of irony. So, situational irony, dramatic irony, and verbal irony. You can learn anything, David out.