OT: Sarcasm and irony

bryan rasmussen rasmussen.bryan at gmail.com
Tue Oct 10 15:25:10 CEST 2006

> bryan rasmussen skrev:
> > Well irony originally started out as a very specific concept of the
> > Ancient Greek drama, this is what we nowadays refer to as Dramatic
> > Irony but it is the original irony. Irony then became a literary
> > concept for plot elements similar to Dramatic irony in books, or a
> > weaker type of the Dramatic irony found in the plays of Shakespeare.
> > People then noticed that life was at times ironic in the literary
> > manner.
> Yes and in Rome "salary" meant getting a bag of salt.

According to Answers.com it derives from a word for money given to
Roman soldiers for buying salt, hence salary is pertaining to salt.

> Concepts changes.

As was noted in my original statement the weak form of irony such as
understood by Danes and I suppose by Americans as well, since that is
what Steve was originally complaining about, is descended from the
concept of Dramatic Irony. If you do a dictionary lookup of irony
dramatic irony will probably be mentioned, also such more antiquated
usages as Socratic irony.

These other concepts of irony have not changed. You can use the word
irony in a technical manner to someone in the dramatic arts and have
the usage understood.

 The weak form of irony, verbal irony, is a pretty recent addition to
the concept of irony.

To take a wikipedia discussion of the subject:

let's quote:
"Verbal irony is traditionally defined as the use of words to convey
something other than, and especially the opposite of the literal
meaning of the words. One classic example is a speaker saying, "What
lovely weather we are having!" as she looks out at a rainstorm
intending to express her dissatisfaction with the weather."

I believe this answers to the concept of irony as used by Danes
(especially given  the example of the weather comment above which I
hear similar comments all the time.)

Given the wikipedia article and Steve Holden's description of
Americans as being clueless about irony for usages that you seem to
find correct I suppose that Americans are no more clueless or less apt
to understand Danish irony than Danes are. However, having been
exposed to Danish irony quite a bit I have to say that in my case I
understand it fine but it bores me, therefore when a Dane tells me
that Americans don't understand Danish irony I always secretly think
they probably wonder why looking out at a rainstorm and saying "What
lovely weather we are having" should be considered as a particularly
inspired use of the verbal ironical form. Also although I am not an
american I am often mistaken for one by Danes and when someone says
'What lovely weather we are having' (or similar) I will tend to be
rather ironical myself and pretend not to have understood their
comment as being ironical. And then they will try to explain irony to
me with very long and drawn out explanations. Fun stuff.

> > Nowadays the use of the word irony has degenerated to by
> > pretty much synonymous with sarcasm.
> As a Dane that is a Chronic Ironic, I beg to differ.
> In Denmark at least there is a lot of difference between irony and
> sarcasm. Irony is the main form of humor here, and danes takes to it
> easily. People being sarcastic we don't much like.
> But I guess that it can be hard to se the difference for someone not
> used to irony.

Yes, just what I was going to say.

I suppose that you will admit that the Danish Ironisk has the same
history as the English Irony, of course as the above mentioned
Wikipedia article mentions "Irony often requires a cultural backdrop
to be understood or noticed, and as with any culture-specific idiom,
irony often cannot be perfectly transplanted. " If you do so agree
then, as opposed to your example of 'salary', the current meaning of
irony being predominantly used to convey Verbal irony is rather

I may very well be missing some sort of meta-irony in someone saying
"What wonderful weather we're having" when its pouring in København's
Rådhusplads, as in a sort of self-ironical stance consisting of an
implicit statement of "what an idiot I must be for thinking it
worthwhile to comment ironically on the weather when everyone else
today has said the same damn thing. " but I don't know. The main point
is, I think, that verbal irony is understood as a meaning for irony
between various cultures and is not a unique invention of the Danes,
for unique linguistically defined concepts I think Denmark's best
strategy is still to push 'hygge'.

Now again, it may be somewhat old time fuddy-duddyism on my part to
insist on a stronger form of the word irony than verbal irony. I am
personally ready to use all the definitions of ironical forms
discussed in the Wikipedia article because they are technically
precise words and concepts for which we do not have words and concepts
other than them.

Med Venlig Hilsen,
Bryan Rasmussen

More information about the Python-list mailing list