Monday, March 24, 2008

Detecting that hint of irony: a few tips

It's unfortunate that so many of the nuances of irony or facetiousness are best detected through spoken language. It can be very difficult to determine if a writer (myself in this case) is making a serious claim or inserting a tongue-in-cheek remark. I suppose it's a by-product of my dry sense of humor. It's indirect and delivered in a matter-of-fact style. At least it would be if it was spoken. For those of you who have difficulty detecting irony in print, here are a few tips to help you.

1. If it sounds like a throw-away remark or an "aside" (that is, something I would mutter under my breath), then it's probably not a serious claim.

2. If I couch it in words meant to convey uncertainty like "possibly" or "maybe" or "perhaps" AND the statement seems incongruous with demonstrable facts, then it may be something that's not intended to be taken literally.

3. Related to #2, if you are able to prove the statement is patently false or at least highly unlikely based on information available to you, then there's a good chance I already knew that and did not expect you to be taking it so literally as to be fact-checking on something I didn't really think was accurate in the first place.

4. Use of parentheses. If I make a statement and place it in parentheses, your first thought should be that it might be an aside (see #1). If said statement also conforms to one or more of the other clues given here, then it's probably a facetious remark.

5. If you read it and your first reaction is, "really?" (indicating you're on the cusp of belief but still uncertain and need that final confirmation), then the answer is probably, "No, not really."

6. If you typically don't get the jokes when people around you are verbally using irony, sarcasm, satire, wit, or some other facetiousness, forget about it. You're not going to get it in print either.

That's all I can think of for now. Of course, humor is less humorous once you've had to explain the joke. Consider this a fair warning. My statements are not always meant to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I try to limit the use of humor to only a few remarks now and then. So please don't write off everything I say as just a joke. Remember...just a hint of irony. (A hint is a small amount, barely perceptible. I can't believe I had to explain that to you. Seriously.)

1 comment:

  1. Amen, brother. I love your humor and sense of irony. Next time I get blasted or smugged by a reader who seems to have gone to great lengths to miss the point/the joke, I'll send 'em here!