Figure Name irony
Source Quintilian 9.2.45-51; Bede 615; Aquil. 7 ("ironia," "simulatio"); Susenbrotus (1540) 14-15 ("ironia," "illusio"); Sherry (1550) 45 ("ironia," "dissimulatio"); Peacham (1577) D3r; Fraunce (1588) 1.6; Putt. (1589) 199 ("ironia," "the dry mock"); Day 1599 80 ("ironia"); Silva Rhetoricae (; JG Smith (1665) ("ironia"); Gibbons (1767) 77 ("irony"); Holmes (1806) ("irony," "ironia"); Hart (1874) 170-171; Macbeth (1876); Bain (1867) 62 ("irony"); De Mille (1882); Hill (1883); Waddy (1889); Jamieson (1844) 189; Blount (1653) 6 ("ironia"); Raub (1888) 219; Bullinger (1898) ("eironeia; or, irony"); Johnson (1903) ("irony"); Norwood (1742) ("irony")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms ironia, illusio, dissimulatio, simulatio, the dry mock, eironeia
Etymology I'-ron-y. Gr. eironeua "dissimulation" hence, "a dissembling, especially in speech" from eirein "to speak"
Type Trope
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. Speaking in such a way as to imply the contrary of what one says, often for the purpose of derision, mockery, or jest. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Ironia, mocking or counterfeiting: a trope whereby in derision, we speak contrary to what we think or mean.; Ironia, Simulatio, irrisio, mocking or counterfeiting, derived from in loquendo dissimulatione utor, to dissemble in speaking; or from [eiro] dico, from whence [eiron] Simulator, qui aliter dicit ac sontit: from which Ironia is taken for dissimulation, whereby one thing is thought and another spoken; it signifies also taunting speeches, or a speaking by contraries; as if we should say black is white. It is called the mocking Trope, whereby in derision we speak contrary to what we think or mean, or when one contrary is signified by another: This Trope is not so well perceived by the words, as either by the contrariety of the matter, or the manner of utterance, or both. Antiphrasis and this are of very nigh affinity, only differing in this, that Antiphrasis consists in the contrary sense of a word, and Ironia of a sentence. (JG Smith)

3. "...a Trope, in which one contrary is signified by another; or, in which we speak one thing, and design another, in order to give the greater force and vehemence to our meaning." (Gibbons)

4. An Irony, dissembling with an air, Thinks otherwise than what the words declare. (Holmes)

5. Irony consists in ridiculing an object under a pretence of praising it. The language in it literal acceptation is exactly the opposite of what the author means. (Hart)

6. Irony comes before us next: "the dry mock," quoth old Puttenham. When a speaker expresses himself contrary to his thoughts, not with the intention of concealing his real sentiments, but of giving greater force to them, he speaks ironically. (Macbeth)

7. "Irony expresses the contrary of what is meant, there being something in the tone or manner to show the real drift of the speaker…." (Bain)

8. 124. IRONY.
Irony is the use of words whose literal meaning is contrary to the real signification. (De Mille)

8. 456. IRONY.
Irony is classed among the figures of relativity. It is generally associated with the ridiculous, and is a powerful aid to satire.
Quintilian defines it as a kind of allegory, in which what is expressed is quite different from what is meant. It may be defined as a form of expression in which the real meaning is different from the apparent, as in Elijah's "Cry aloud, for he is a god," Marc Antony's "Brutus is an honorable man." (De Mille)

9. 3. Irony.
Irony also involves the principle of contrast. It consists in putting an assumption in the place of a known truth, that the truth may be made more impressive by the contrast. (Hill)

10. Irony is a figure in which the meaning is contrary to what is expressed. The writer seems to praise what is base and foolish, and in doing so sets forth the contrast between the real character of the object and what is said of it. (Waddy)

11. "When we express ourselves in a manner contrary to our thoughts, not with a view to deceive, but to add force to our observations, we are then said to speak ironically." (Jamieson)

12. "The abuse of a word drawn from things far differing" (Blount)

13. "Irony is a figure employed to express the opposite of the idea entertained. Irony ridicules an object under the pretense of praising it. The true meaning is indicated sometimes by a sneering tone of voice, but generally the construction of the sentence is such as to indicate the irony. ...Irony sometimes conveys a compliment in the guise of an insult, but more frequently an insult in the guise of a compliment…." (Raub)

14. Irony is a Trope whereby a Man speaks contrary to his Thoughts, that he may speak with more Force and Advantage. (Blackwall)

15. The Expression of Thought in a form that naturally conveys its opposite... The figure is so called when the speaker intends to convey a sense contrary to the strict signification of the words employed: not with the intention of concealing his real meaning, but for the purpose of adding greater force to it... There are three classes of Irony:-
1. ANTIPHRASIS, an-tiph'-rasis, from anti "against" or "opposite," and phrasis "a way of speaking" (from phrazein "to speak"). This name is given to Irony when it consists of one word or a single expression. As when "a court of justice" is called "a court of vengence."
2. PERMUTATIO or permutation, when the Irony consists of phrases, and sentences, or longer expressions.
3. SARCASMOS, sar-cas'-mos. Greek, (Latin, sarcasmos), from sarkazo, "to tear flesh as dogs do;" hence, a rending or tearing or wounding with cutting words; sarcasm. Irony is so called when it is used as a taunt or in ridicule...
We have not arranged our examples in these three divisions, but have combined these together in five other divisions more simply, thus:-
I. DIVINE IRONY. Where the speaker is Divine.
II. HUMAN IRONY. Where the speaker is a human being.
III. PEIRASTIC IRONY. Where the words are not spoken ironically in the ordinary sense, but peirastically: i.e., by way of trying or testing (PEIRASTIKOS).
IV. SIMULATED IRONY. Where the words are used by man in dissimulation or hypocrisy.
V. DECEPTIVE IRONY. Where the words are not only hypocritical, but false and deceptive. (Bullinger, 793)

16. Irony.—This figure of rhetoric consists in saying the exact opposite of what is meant. It is common to all, from the most unlettered boor to the most accomplished writer. It may form the substance of the cheapest wit or of the most stinging sarcasm. (Johnson, 138)

17. IRONY. Irony is a sort of a Trope or Figure, by which we speak contrary to our very thoughts; saying one thing, but meaning what is very different to it. (Norwood, 49)


1. When in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing the constable Dogberry says "redemption" instead of "damnation" (itself a malapropism), the fact that he means precisely the opposite of what he so passionately exclaims makes this a comical use of irony:
O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this. (Silva Rhetoricae)

3. "...our Lord's rebuke to the Jewish Doctors, when he says, Mark vii. 9. 'Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Gibbons)

2. He was no notorious Malefactor, but he had been twice on the Pillory, and once burnt in the hand for trifling oversights.

Milo had but a slender strength, who carried an oxe a furlong on his back, then kill'd him with his fist, and eat him to his breakfast.

So when the Persian army was at variance among themselves, Philip of Macedon (their utter enemy) said, He would send his army to make them friends.

Thus Gnatho speaks Ironically to Thraso; What (quoth he) they knew you not after I had shewn them your good conditions, and made mention of your vertues? Then answered Thraso, You did like an honest man, I heartily thank you: Here, both the saying of Gnatho and Thrasoe's Answer have a contrary signification. (JG Smith)

4. Fairly done, i.e. Scandalously done. Good Boy, i.e. Bad Boy. (Holmes)

5. "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you!" - Job 12:2 (Hart)

5. "Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be waked!" - Elijah, 1 Kings 17:27 (Hart)

5. "Although I would have you early instill into your children's hearts the love of cruelty, yet by no means call it by its true name, but encourage them in it under the name of fun." (Hart)

5. "Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, (For Brutus is an honorable man, So are they all, all honorable men,) Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral. He was my friend, faithful and just to me; But Brutus says he was ambitious; and Brutus is an honorable man." - Julius Caesar (Hart)

6. A certain bishop was notorious for malice and treachery. Said Sydney Smith:
"The bishop is so like Judas Iscariot, that I now firmly believe in the apostolical succession." (Macbeth)

7. "as in Job's address to his friends, 'No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom will die with you." (Bain)

9. A single example, from Whittier, will illustrate this:
"What has the gray-haired prisoner done?
Has murder stained his hands with gore?
Not so. His crime's a fouler one-
God made the old man poor." (Hill)

11. "To reprove a person for his negligence, one might say, 'You have taken great care indeed.'" (Jamieson)

12. "I am in danger of preferment. I am not guilty of those praises. I have hardly escaped good fortune. He threatens me a good turn." (Blount)

13. "For Brutus is an honorable man! / So are they all, all honorable men." (Raub)

14. Son! Thou in whom My Glory I behold
In full Resplendence, Heir of all my Might,
Nearly it now concerns Us to be sure
Of Our Omnipotence! - Milton (Blackwall)

14. Go now, and study tuneful Verse at Rome! - Horace (Blackwall)

15. [ex. of I.] Dut. 32:37. -"And he shall say: Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, Which did eat fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink-offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be you protection."
This is Divine Sarcasm; for their gods were no rock or defence, neither did they accept offerings or give help. (Bullinger, 794)

15. [ex. of II.] 2 Kings 8:10. -The words of Elisha to Hazael: "Go, say unto him (i.e., the king of Syria), Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the LORD hath shewed me that he shall surely die."
By the Irony in the first clause, Elisha stated a fact, that there was no reason why Benhadad should not recover. In the latter clause he revealed to Hazael that he know he meant to murder him, as it came to pass. Compare verse 11, 14 and 15. (Bullinger, 798)

15. [ex. of III.] Gen. 19:2. -The angels said to Lot, "Nay; but we will abide in the street all night." This was said to try Lot, to see what he would do; for they were not sent to abide in Sodom at all. (Bullinger, 799)

15. [ex. from IV.] Gen. 37:19. -Joseph's brethren said: "Behold this dreamer cometh." The Heb. is stronger than this, as it partly shown in the margin: "Behold that Master of the dreams, there he comes." They did not mean this, for see verses 5 and 11. (Bullinger, 800)

15. [ex. of V.] Matt. 2:8. -Herod says to the wise men: "Go and search for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also" (or that I also may come and worship him).
This was false, for Herod wanted to slay Him, and not to worship Him. (Bullinger, 801)

16. An example is furnished by Antony's
speech at the funeral in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious,
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,—
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men,—
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral,
He was my friend, faithful and just to me;
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown.
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause;
What cause witholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason!

Antony, as he tells us, can speak on that occasion only by leave of the men who have murdered
Caesar; yet his purpose is to convince the populace that Caesar was a friend of the people and not in any way worthy of death, and especially to contradict the declaration of Brutus—in a speech delivered a few minutes before—that Caesar was slain because he was ambitious. These being the circumstances, it is evident that anything sarcastic or ironical must be concealed until the populace have been so far wrought upon that they will protect the speaker against the assassins. To the reader the repeated declaration that Brutus is an honorable man is evidently
ironical almost from the first; but if the speech is delivered as it should be, the inflection at first is such as to conceal the irony, till, after the several proofs of the mendacity of Brutus have
been adduced, the hearers begin to comprehend that he is very far from honorable, and when Antony arrives at the line—

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

the irony is overwhelming from the fact that he has already disproved it. Literature furnishes no finer example of irony than this, nor one that requires a nicer art in the delivery. Job, answering his friends, resorts to irony when he says (xii, 2), "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." (Johnson, 138-140)

17. 2 Sam. 6. 20. How glorious was the kingdom of Israel to day? That is, how shameful? How dishonourable? See the context. (Norwood, 49)

17. Job 12. 2. No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you: as if he said; you, surly, fancy yourselves to be extremely wise; and that all wisdom shall perish with you; which is a tacit reprehension of their imprudent censure, in accusing Job of some impiety, as if God's judgements upon him was an infallible
sign of wicked life; this very opinion is condemned, Luke 13. 4. (Norwood, 49-50)

Kind Of Opposition
Part Of
Related Figures antiphrasis, paralipsis, epitrope, sarcasmus, mycterismus, litotes, oxymoron, synchoresis
Notes Quintillian notes tone of voice (marked changes in pitch volume, speed, or length of pauses) as a signal for irony. JG Smith calls it the mocking Trope.
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes There are many figures which could be related or "Part Of" irony. When you come across them, copy into the "Related Figures"
Reviewed No