Irony (Greek εἰρωνεία eironeía, literally " adjustment, Sham " ) denotes the one hand, a rhetorical figure ( rhetorical irony or instrumental irony ) at which adjusts the speaker. Ensuring there is the spokesman for the expectation that the true meaning of his utterance was understood, though perhaps not from any person, respectively, not from any person in its entirety. On the other hand, refers to irony since the end of the 18th century, a literary- philosophical attitude (romantic irony ).

Rhetorical irony

The simplest form of rhetorical irony is the opposite of saying what you mean ( in the third example, a complicated form is shown below). To avoid misunderstanding, irony may be from so-called irony signals ( facial expressions, gestures, tone, quotes, etc.) be accompanied, which show the listener that the speaker wants to be understood the above does not literally but ironically.

In general, the understanding of irony based on the fact that the speaker and hearer know that they share certain beliefs, it is also called "shared stocks of knowledge ". The ironic utterance violates seemingly against the shared stocks of knowledge, the speaker violates the expectation of the listener that common knowledge stocks are observed. As a theoretical model to explain the decryption of the ironic utterance applies the theory of conversational implicatures by Paul Grice. This theory provides criteria for the discovery, but no evidence for the function of irony.

In linguistics, this function is discussed as a valuation communications. The ironic utterance addressed indirectly ratings that are associated with the contents of the shared stocks of knowledge to correct this then; not, as it corresponds to popular belief, in order to repent, but to correct them downwards. Why expresses the irony meant not be measured directly, but indirectly, is not yet fully understood. Currently, several approaches are being pursued in parallel: The display of a rating gap between what happens and what is meant or the communication of additional related messages (for example, that when shared values ​​despite criticism ironically formulated the relationship is still okay - the ironic Talking shows through ironic indirection to lead him to ironically criticized as insightful and so he can dispense with an open direct criticism ). Although irony is reviewed communication, the question evaluations must not be shared by speaker and listener. To understand the irony, it is sufficient that both are aware of the evaluation of the other.

The successful use of irony testifies not only to the successful reflection of your own knowledge, but also by the successful recognition of the knowledge of the opponent and is therefore an expression of the ability to anticipate each other's thoughts and reflect. In this discourse is functionalized expressions of intellectual superiority partially self again. In hierarchical situations, such as teacher - student, one speaks in this context of the " irony right ", which almost without exception, are entitled to the higher-ranking communication partner.

Examples of irony

  • A has had a stack of fall dishes. Then B says: " Prima are you doing this! " - The shared knowledge in this case is that both A and B know that it is not good etiquette to leave a stack of fall dishes. By B pronounce a rogue praise, he disregarded this knowledge apparently. The recognition of the adjustment based on the fact that the listener knows this also and moreover knows that the speaker knows this.
  • A family man complains of a money issue with the statement: - The father is here assumed that the child is aware of the limitations of financial resources of the family, " We have it, yes. ". Again, both need to Split the nature of this knowledge to know (for a detailed discussion of the example → model of understanding the rhetorical irony ).
  • The commonly shared definition of the opposite of what is said opining not quite meet the essence of irony: On the question of the capabilities of a ( always well-dressed ) politician will be replied with the words "He is always extremely well dressed. ". - This is a disguised as praise blame. By praising a marginal ability is emphasized, is ironically indicated that it is not with his ( major ) political skills far away. The irony can be here but do not reduce the fact that the opposite is meant by what has been said. Because this would be the statement that he badly dressed now and again, and it would be an ironic criticism of bad clothing; out of the said facts are correct but.
  • A prime example of irony and self-irony is the Bützower court day.

Model of understanding the rhetorical irony

The ironic utterance violates shared stocks of knowledge, know of their dividedness speaker and addressee. So in the second example above, father and child both have to assume that the financial resources of the family are limited. The utterance of the Father is "We have it so " wrong in her eyes. Since the child knows that the father is known that it likewise believes it can not assume that the father is mistaken or lying, but it must believe that he deliberately says something wrong, without trying to deceive. In his view, what is said against the Gricean conversational maxim of quality, contrary to "endeavor to provide a discussion contribution, which is true." Since, according to the principle of cooperation, the child assumes that the Father wants to tell him something and it ties in with the knowledge resources of the child, the child is now trying to construct a meaning. Therefore it has to form a implicature, so with this developed is meant the statements meet the conversational maxims. After Grice's communication model is achieved in that the listener tries to find out the associated with the expression of the speaker's intention.

What is the purpose of the father to the child if he intentionally says something wrong? By it was recognized that the statement is untrue, the child had to make people aware that the financial resources of the family are limited. Now the child activates another world knowledge, eg "You must not make any unnecessary expenditure" or " fathers raise their children, including the economy ." For this world knowledge the child out now recognizes the intention of the father, the child pointed out that one should make no useless expenditure in general, even if it is done in this particular case. It feels admonished to avoid such issues in the future, and has thus opened up the ironically meant.

Failure of the irony in the understanding model

Understanding model is multi-level and at each stage there are possible causes for the failure of irony, the misunderstanding of the ironic utterance.

  • The knowledge resources are not shared: Ginge in the example the child, for example, falsely assume that the family would be rich, the father had thus erred, should fail to communicate, as would have been contrary from the child's father view against the maxim of quantity, so that from this point of view the statement contained no new information. The child would then try to find a meaning in the fact that the father says something obvious. This would in any case not meant ironically, in the event that the construction of one mind should fail, the child would understand just " train station ".
  • The addressee knows not the Shared awareness of knowledge: Knew in the example the child, for example, from the mother to the narrowness of the financial resources, and that the Father often acts as if he were rich, so the child would assume that the father is lying, to avoid being cast as rich in front of the child.
  • The child is not (yet) able to construct the intention of the father: the child has recognized that the Father has deliberately said something wrong, so the child must be in accordance with the above model to try to understand the intention behind the utterance. If the child has for example not been sufficient knowledge of the world has, for example, a child previously only ever seen that the money comes out the ATM, do not know yet that it does not engage in unnecessary expenditure etc., so it can not even open up the right intention or recognized. For example, it would instead find that the father would make some joke. The child is not yet capable of irony, because it is not yet able to recognize complex speaker intentions.


Self-deprecation is an irony whose direct target is their own role or opinion and therefore a playful, relativistic or even critical attitude itself takes over. Self-irony, therefore, is often seen as a sign of humor and sympathetic humility and is, due to its immanent self-criticism, even for a general non-dogmatic approach to life. Accordingly, it is therefore often also in the art to find ( literature, film, theater) and is discussed by art critics as a quality feature. Their absence is often criticized as an artistic shortcoming. The fact that they completely lacked it, is seen as a salient trait of Adolf Hitler. On the other hand bracing itself Thomas Mann - Marcel Reich-Ranicki Hitler antithesis of Germanism - with self-irony against all doubt.

Socratic irony

As Socratic irony is often referred to a small -making adjustment ( one plays dumb ) to lure the wähnenden consider interlocutor in the case to instruct him or bring him food for thought. Meant by that is a real adjustment, which in contrast to the rhetorical irony will not necessarily be recognized as an adjustment. This concept of irony corresponds to the meaning at the time of Socrates and even Aristotle '. Only with the formation of the rhetoric of the Concept of Irony gained its present meaning. As a real adjustment was in ancient times, the use of irony as morally reprehensible. Socrates described his way of conversing as midwifery ( Maieutics ). However, the Socratic irony is a misinterpretation from the outside, for example from the perspective of Alcibiades in Plato's Symposium, and no description of Socrates ' true attitude. In fact, Socrates is not obstructed; he was convinced of his lack of knowledge ( for further discussion of the question " adjustment " versus " Genuine ignorance" → Socrates: Socratic dialogues section meaning and method ). The philosopher is not a wise man, he seeks wisdom. In everyday parlance, but mostly referred to the notion of Socratic irony to be a real small -making adjustments.

Irony in literature

In the literature, irony occurs in all forms: On the one rhetorical or Socratic irony in conversations is staged, for example, between fictional characters. Here, the author takes care also that the reader realizes that the novel's characters communicate rhetorical or Socratic irony. On the other hand, it is also a mono-directional communication literature between author and reader. This is regarding the use of rhetorical irony is the problem that the author generally has no knowledge of the state of knowledge of the reader. This problem can be solved by the author, for example, that he takes the reader initially in the same eye level, therefore, takes care that the reader has the necessary knowledge to decipher the irony. In the demanding literature, however, the responsibility for detecting and decoding of irony (eg, by close study of factory, author and literature in general ) is transmitted exclusively to the reader. The author deliberately takes into account that his irony is not understood by everyone ( which happens repeatedly, see for example the TV show One heart and one soul).

In literary criticism is another form of irony is important: In the romance was with Ludwig Tieck, but especially extended with Friedrich Schlegel, the concept of irony to a literary attitude, which was later referred to as romantic irony. This is characterized by a distance to his own work, which is achieved for example by the fact that the creative process itself is discussed, such as weaving in reflections about writing the actual novel. The adjective "romantic" here refers to the first occurrence of the term.

However, the concept of romantic irony is not unique. It was discussed at length, especially since the end of the 19th century and learned doing various philosophical distinctions (among other things → Lenses ironies and ironist ). Irony, now no longer unique adjustment, but " floating" between what is said and what is meant ironically classic, is the philosophical attitude. Thomas Mann describes this irony as serene ambiguity. With her he could reconcile the antinomies of life, "Both well - as - " make the "either- or" one. This means Are Let him, like Goethe, a multi- objectivity, because " but irony is always irony to both sides. " Even already applied to Friedrich Schlegel: ". Irony is clear consciousness of eternal agility, of the infinitely full chaos "

The attitudes described with the label Romantic irony can be traced back to the literature of the ancient world and play an important role up to the present time for literature ( and also for film and theater ).

In the 20th century the concept of irony was in particular by Richard Rorty developed into a philosophical attitude, which is characterized by an ironic distance to their own language.

Another form of literary irony, which was already used in ancient tragedy is the dramatic or tragic irony. Here, the protagonist appears clueless, while his disaster for the reader / viewer etc. imminent recognizable.

Regarding the recognition of irony in the literature, so to Heinrich Heine, not without irony, have called for the introduction of a character similar to the irony exclamation point in order to avoid misunderstandings. In French, was such a sign, the point d' irony invented by the writer Alcanter de Brahm - but it has not been successful.

Lenses ironies and ironist

One view of the functioning of verbal irony (eg blame by praise ) is that to pronounce what you would have expected, but it is ironically criticized that instead the opposite has occurred ( see, eg, the ironic use "This is a great party ," just when it is underwhelming ). This standing behind the verbal irony principle that instead of the expected exactly the opposite has occurred, is developed at the beginning of the 19th century in connection with the discussion of the romantic irony as a general principle, and extended the concept of irony to this general principle. The irony is detached from the verbal irony and you can now also see irony in things, in pseudo objects which have no consciousness, for example, in the world, the fate of the history, nature, in situations in the cosmos. The resulting ironies, the irony of the world, ironic, irony of history, etc., because there is no ironic subject, referred to as objective ironies. These objective ironies always need an audience, a subject, the ironist, who noticed the irony. The ironist in this sense is one who recognizes in the world the contradiction between ideal (as the commonly Expected ) and reality as an objective irony ( see, eg, the consciousness attitude of Thomas Mann described above).

Irony in journalism

As for the means of irony in journalism, so there arise the same visibility problems as described in the literature section. Applies to a journal to a specific audience, it can be quite irony, of course. The wider the audience, however, is directed to the journalist, the greater the risk that irony passes by a part of the addressee. Therefore, under the usual publicist warning: irony never understands the reader. In the media it is, therefore, apart from involuntary irony, almost only found in reserves. Glosses for example, are usually clearly marked as such and often have a fixed starting place ( column in the newspaper, send space in broadcasting).

Irony on the Internet

When communicating over the Internet ( for example, message forums, e -mails and chats) maintain the partner a more relaxed tone. With special additives they can suggest ideas that go beyond the written word, for example, feelings and even irony:

  • Emoticons as a substitute for accompanying facial expressions (for example ;-))
  • Inflectives (also called Erikativ ) and limited onomatopoeia as gestures replacement ( for example, * grin *, * wink *)
  • Versalschrift, text thickness, color, size ( among other things such as run- wide ) are used for highlighting as an alternative to sentence stress (eg NO, how did you get TO? )
  • Gestures, facial expressions and intonation, which are not visible in the written communication are often replaced by visible pseudo - HTML or BB code. Examples are Yes, of course! or [ irony ] No, never! [/ Irony ], where often only the HTML closing tag is written.
  • In addition, a double caret ^ ^ is more often (which is also the Japanese emoticon for horizontal smile / grin is ) especially in networked communication of young people used to detect ironic content.

Learn more about this see network jargon.