Whenever you’ve come across a discussion on the internet—whether it’s on YouTube’s comment section, Reddit, or some forum—you might’ve seen the words “irony” and “sarcasm” thrown around. It happens especially when someone is trying to explain a joke that someone didn’t understand.
Another thing that you might notice is that, sometimes, the terms “irony” and “sarcasm” tend to be used interchangeably as if they’re both the same thing. Ironically, they aren’t. Here’s the difference between the two terms.
What is Irony?
Sorry, Alanis Morisette, but as we all know, you didn’t use “ironic” properly in your very catchy 90s song. Irony is not “unfortunate.” It can be, but it is not the direct definition. Ironic is when something happens that is the polar opposite of what was intended to happen. If someone is ironic, what they’re currently doing or experiencing is the opposite of what you would expect of them.
Some examples of irony include a marriage counselor filing for divorce or a Tweet complaining about how useless Twitter is. Both entities give us the sense that they are doing the exact opposite of what we expect them to do.
There are three types of irony.
Irony is verbal if someone speaks it through words; when an individual says something completely different from how one feels. Verbal irony can become a sarcastic remark if the speaker is trying to mock someone. For instance, a woman stepping out into a rainstorm and saying, “What nice weather!”
There’s a special type of verbal irony called Socratic irony. If you’re using Socratic irony, you are feigning ignorance to drive someone else into revealing their inconsistencies or ignorance. For example, a father who caught his son sneaking out of the house at night might say something along these lines, “I’m confused, I thought your curfew was at 9 p.m. Isn’t it past midnight?”
Situational irony is self-explanatory. It occurs when there’s a contradiction between what is expected to happen versus what was really happened—like the expectations versus reality meme. A simple example is when a pilot has a fear of heights. Or if a police station gets held up.
Dramatic irony is in scripts, movies, and other literary works. In dramatic irony, the audience’s understanding of the characters’ situation differs significantly from the characters’ understanding.
Shakespeare uses it a lot. One of the best examples, a “Hamlet” gem, is when Polonius hides behind the curtain to listen to Hamlet and his mother’s conversation. The audience knows it’s Polonius, but Hamlet doesn’t. Mistaking his voice for Claudius’s, he ends up stabbing and killing Polonius. If only you knew, Hamlet!
What is Sarcasm?
Sarcasm is similar to verbal irony but serves a bigger purpose. Sarcasm is an ironic or satirical comment intended to mock by expressing something other than what the speaker means.
Here are a few examples of sarcastic remarks:
- When you catch someone slacking off during a group project, you might say, “Don’t work too hard!”
- Meeting someone you know in a public restroom and they ask, “Hey, what are you doing here?” to which you reply, “Oh, you know, hunting elephants.”
The key to good sarcasm is context and tone of voice. People will get it if you deliver it correctly.
Irony happens when there is a gap between what people expect and what they get. Sarcasm is verbal irony intended for mockery. Not all irony is sarcasm, whereas sarcasm is a type of irony.