Is this not ironic? But is it? I’m only being sarcastic, so don’t worry. Two of the most frequently used, abused, and misunderstood words in our conversational lexicon are irony and sarcasm. Psycholinguist Roger Kreuz provides a clear and informative review of the history of these two concepts in this book from the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, charting their progression from ancient Greek philosophy and Roman rhetoric to contemporary literary criticism and emojis.
From Socratic to dramatic to cosmic irony, Kreuz discusses eight various ways that irony has been employed throughout history. In his explanation, he defines sarcasm as a sort of verbal irony and notes that verbal irony—as it is conventionally understood—refers to words that convey something different (sometimes the opposite) of what is explicitly intended. According to Kreuz, a shared frame of reference is one of the requirements for irony and sarcasm. He also defines what irony is not (coincidence, paradox, satire), what it can be (among other things, a socially acceptable way to express hostility), how people can signal their ironic intentions and the challenges of using irony online. Finally, he muses on the possibility that, due to irony’s wide range of applications, the word may eventually lose favor and be replaced by sarcasm.