Oh, The Irony

This week’s challenge explores one of the oldest — and trickiest — literary devices.

Image by gnuckx (CC BY 2.0)

In everyday language, we now use “irony” as a synonym for snark or sarcasm (or, sometimes, for unusually bad luck). At its core, though, irony is something much more interesting: a moment in which the same words mean different things at the same time, depending on who’s listening (and what they know about the situation at hand).

In this week’s challenge, I’d like to invite you to write a post built around an ironic moment. You could recount a scene in which what you said was the opposite of what you meant. You could tell a story in which one of the people involved is entirely unaware of the motivations of everyone else. Or address your post to another person, letting us — your readers — infer the real, very different message between the lines.

Irony is often funny, but it can generate more complicated emotional reactions, too. Take the clip below, from the Robert Altman classic, Nashville (I’ve been thinking about it in the run-up to today’s elections in the US — it’s the best election-themed movie I know). In this scene, a folk singer, played by Keith Carradine, sings about a romantic relationship of an unclear nature:

The remarkable thing here is that there are four women in the audience (played by Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chaplin, and Cristina Raines), who each has reasons to believe the song is addressed to her. The words alter their meaning radically in each scenario — what one woman might interpret as a flirty invitation to a fling can be read by another as a bitter accusation. It’s only us, the movie’s viewers, who are aware of the scene’s true emotional complexity (though we, too, ultimately don’t know who the real addressee is, even if we might have our suspicions).

Of course, not all of us are sleazy-yet-conflicted 70s folk singers. If you’re still not sure what to write about, here are some additional, more specific ideas to get your creative wheels spinning:

  • Write about a song, a movie, or a work of visual art that has a very specific meaning to you — one that’s at odds with its generally accepted meaning (for example, a melancholic song that makes you happy, a goofball comedy that reminds you of a terrible relationship, etc.).
  • Compose a dialog between an adult and a child where the language used means very different things to the kid and to us (tip: double entendres are a basic — and potentially very funny — form of verbal irony).
  • Share one of your photos — choose one that conveys a particular mood, then tell us why our interpretation is entirely wrong.
  • Pick a famous literary character who suffers a tragic end — Romeo, Anna Karenina, Captain Hook — and write a monologue from their perspective, on how everything’s going to work out just fine.
  • Tell us about your ironic shirt, mustache, or Halloween costume — what makes it ironic? Do you ever use it unironically?

I look forward to reading your posts. I mean it!

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  1. I’m new to blogging and this is the first time I’ve tried contributing a post. i hope it’s the right way. I’ve copied it from my website: paulapederson.com My pen name is paulapederson

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Paula Palmer

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Paula! It would probably be easier for everyone to read your post if you included a direct link to it, rather than to your homepage. I promise it’s really simple — go to the post you’ve written in response to the challenge, copy the URL from the address box, then come back here and paste it (with the http:// part and all) into a comment — a link will be created automatically.

      Looking forward!


  2. I’m still panning out my contribution. But the real story here is that I’ve watched that clip/song like 20 times. And Nashville isn’t on Netflix.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. What a coincidence, I just wrote something ironic. http://wp.me/pt1P-1CF
    After reading your post, I just realized that perhaps my understanding of irony is totally wrong! (English is not my first language, anyway). I thought irony is when your intention is different with how everything turns out. Thanks for this post, i learn something new!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It really shouldn’t; sometimes it can take a few minutes (or a bit more) for a pingback to show up, but a whole day suggests something else might be at work here.

        One thing that’s worth trying — in the URL that you added to create the pingback on your post, could you remove the “s” from the “https” bit at the beginning, then update the post? This is sometimes the cause of some pingback issues.

        Sorry about the inconvenience — I’m glad you at least added the link to your post in a comment, so others can still visit it in the absence of the pingback.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great to be back for a challenge. However, my entry posted twice. (I changed the title after publishing when I realized I had already used the title. The correct one has “still” in it.)


    1. Feel free to adapt it in any way that makes sense to you — challenges and prompts are really just a starting point to get everyone thinking. What you actually end up writing about is entirely up to you, even if you end up farther away from the topic than you’d planned.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It may be the wrong place to ask, but if I want to participate in the daily and weekly challenges I have to create a pingback on the relevant post. I’m absolutely new to blogging and stuff, I have looked up how to create the pingback, but I’m still unsure how to do that. Do I just copy the url of the challenge and paste it in my post?


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