English Grammar

What is Irony?

Irony is a stylistic device also based on the simultaneous realization of two logical meanings – dictionary and contextual, but these two meanings stand in opposition to each other. A denomination is replaced by its opposite. The notion named and the notion meant are different.

Example 19: It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one’s pocket. So the word delightful acquires the meaning quite the opposite to its primary dictionary meaning, that is ‘unpleasant’.

There are at least 2 kinds of irony:

1) represent utterances the ironical sense of which is obvious, e.g.: How clever of you! (means «silly») .

In speech irony is made prominent by emphatic intonation. In writing the most typical signs are inverted commas and italics.

2) To the 2nd kind refers the utterance in which the general situation makes the reader guess the real viewpoint of the writer.

Irony must not be confused with humour. Humour always causes laughter.

The function of irony is not confined to producing a humorous effect. Irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning. It expresses a feeling of irritation, displeasure, pity or regret. Its general scheme is: praise stands for blame. Very seldom we observe the opposite type: blaming words are used to express approval, e.g.: clever bastard. In most cases Irony is understood due to the obvious absurdity.

Example 20: She was a pleasant woman with a face like a bucket of mud.

Sometimes irony is not pointed out at all. You can guess it only by reasoning (brooding, meditating). Example 21: What a wonderful war it is!

Irony may be a general manner of narration as in Thackeray’s «Vanity Fair». Irony betrays the author’s attitude to the characters, situations and so on.

B. The second unites means based on the interaction of primary and derivative meanings:

1. Polysemy

Derivative logical meanings always retain semantic ties with the primary meaning. In actual speech polysemy vanishes. A context that does not seek to produce any particular stylistic effect generally materializes one definite meaning. But sometimes words are intentionally made to reveal 2 or more meanings.

Example 22: «Massachusetts was hostile to the American flag, and she would not allow it to be hoisted (raise) on her State House». The word flag is used in its primary meaning when it appears in combination with the verb ‘to hoist’ and in its derivative (or contextual) meaning in the combination ‘was hostile to’.

2. Zeugma and Pun.

There are 2 stylistic devices which make a word materialize 2 distinct meanings. They are zeugma and pun. Zeugma is the use of a word in 2 meanings – literal and figurative.

Example 23: Dora, plunging at once into privileged intimacy and into the middle of the room.

‘To plunge’ (into the middle of the room) realizes the meaning ‘to rush into’ ‘to dive’, this is its primary, literal meaning. In ‘to plunge into privileged intimacy’ the word ‘to plunge’ is used in its transferred meaning.

Example 24: Or lose her Heart or necklace at a Ball.

Zeugma is particularly favoured in emotive prose and in poetry.

Pun. The term is synonymous to the expression ‘play on words’ or paronomasia (каламбур). It is also based on the interaction of the 2 well-known meanings of a word or a phrase in the same context.

Pun may be based; 1) on polysemy:

Example 25:

– Did you hit a woman with a child. – No, sir, I hit her with a brick.

2) on homonymy:

Example 26:

Diner: Is it customary to tip the waiter? – Waiter: Why, yes, sir. – Diner: Then hand me a tip. I’ve waited half an hour.

3) on lexical units which sound alike and are homophones. Example 27: When we were little we went to school. We had a tortoise. (=taught us). The function of a pun is to produce humorous effect.

C. The third group comprises means based on the opposition of logical and emotive meanings:

1. Interjections and exclamatory words:

Interjections and exclamatory words are among the strongest means of displaying the writer’s or the speaker’s attitude to his communication, i.e. the things, ideas, events and phenomena he is dealing with. Example 28:

All present life is but an interjection

An ‘Oh’ or ‘Ah’ of joy or misery,

Or a ‘Ha! ha!’ or ‘Bah!’—a yawn or ‘Pooh!’

Of which perhaps the latter is most true. (Byron)

So, interjections are words we use when we express our feelings strongly and which are conventional symbols of human emotions.

Interjections can be divided into primary (Oh! Ah! Bah! Gosh! Hush!) and derivative (Heavens! Good gracious! Dear me! God knows! Bless me! and many others).

The latter are sometimes called exclamatory words used as interjections. Some adjectives and adverbs can take on the function of interjections (Terrible! Splendid! Wonderful! Fantastic! and the like).

2. The Epithet

It is a figure of speech, a word or a phrase expressing some quality. It serves to emphasize some property or feature. The Epithet reflects a purely individual outlook of the author on the given phenomenon, it doesn’t define the thing, doesn’t bring out its qualities. It describes the thing as it appears to the speaker. It serves to display the author’s or speaker’s emotional attitude to his communication.

Epithets may be close to metaphors when certain properties of one class of things are reflected upon another class of things

Example 29 The dawn with silver sandaled feet crept like a frightened girl.

Semantically there may be differentiated 2 groups of Epithets:

1) emotive epithets conveying the emotional attitude of the speaker to the object in question, e.g.: nasty, ugly, magnificent, etc.

2) figurative epithets based on similarity of characteristics of 2 objects, e.g.: a ghost-like face; a frowning cloud.

If a combination «epithet + noun» is often used it loses its stylistic colouring and becomes fixed, e.g.: true love, deep feeling, bright face.

The epithet may be presented through

– a noun: mushroom millionaire;

– an adjective: destructive charm;

– of-phrase: muscle of iron;

– adverb: to love heartily;

– adverbial phrase: never-to-be-forgotten words

– quotation: ‘I love you’ expression of his eyes;

– participle: torturing pain

– a sentence: you, clown. ..

From the point of view of structure Epithets may be divided into

1) simple (a cold smile, bitter thoughts);

2) compound (heart-rending (heart-breaking) sobs);

3) paired (a wonderful and sunny beauty);

4) syntactical or phrase, they are written in a dash or hyphen ( a wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly type of a girl);

5) a chain or string of epithets (a group of attributes referring to the same object. It gives a many-sided description of an object or of a person): a plump rosy-cheeked apple faced young woman;

6) transferred epithet (it’s a logical attribute but it is placed before an inanimate object) a sleepless pillow;

7) inverted epithet (the defining and the defined words change their places) the devil of a woman.

Epithets may stand in preposition or in postposition to the nouns they modify.

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