I’ve been arguing that ‘sarcasm’ means different things in BrE and AmE, so is it the same with ‘irony’? I’ll try to be systematic about this because there are different kinds of irony.
1. The most common sort seems to be of the verbal kind. An example would be a sarcastic remark where you say the opposite of what you mean, like ‘Yeah right’ when you mean ‘No way’. And we generally all know that you mean ‘no way’, so it’s often funny. These kinds of remarks seem pretty common on both sides of the pond to me, and we could use the word ‘ironic’ in both varieties to describe them.
2. Then there’s fictional or dramatic irony, so when something is strikingly obvious to the reader or viewer but the characters or actors can’t see it. It’s pretty specific to literature and there might be a BrE /AmE difference, but if there is, I haven’t noticed it.
3. And then there’s a situational irony, where instead of things happening as expected, we get the opposite result. This irony is often of the cosmic kind, where the world seems to be conspiring against us. So we might set out with the best of intentions doing what seems sensible to achieve a goal, but it later turns out that we did everything wrong and we wind up achieving the opposite effect. (I keep thinking of Del Boy in ‘Only fools of horses’ setting out to help Rodney mend his marriage and only making matters worse.) Again, I think we use ‘ironic’ in the same way for this in BrE and AmE.
Yes, I think she misunderstood meaning No. 3. The events she describes wouldn’t normally be described as ironic in AmE. (You’d agree, wouldn’t you, American readers?) As the Irish comedian Ed Byrne puts it:
“The only ironic thing about that song is it’s called ‘Ironic’ and it’s written by a woman who doesn’t know what irony is. That’s quite ironic.”
Here’s Ed in action. (Thanks very much for the link, Shaun!)
So I reckon:
‘sarcasm’ – different meanings in the UK and US
‘irony’ – same meanings
Mind you, I read something that gave me pause for thought at this site ( I’m guessing it’s AmE.)
While this sentence has some element of irony in it, it is not really ironic, and does not portray the full and correct meaning of the word irony. True irony involves some form of deceit, duplicity, or hypocrisy, be it intentional or accidental... …
Well, this was news to me because I found that fire station example pretty ironic and the soap dish example very un-ironic. So maybe it’s another individual’s misguided take on things, or perhaps I’m missing something here.
Here’s the rest of this series: part one, part two, part three