In all previously discussed lexical SDs we dealt with various transformations of the logical (denotational) meaning of words, which participated in the creation of metaphors, metonymies, puns, zeugmas, etc. Each of the SDs added expressiveness and originality to the nomination of the object. Evaluation of the named concept was often present too, but it was an optional characteristic, not inherent in any of these SDs. Their subjectivity relies on the new and fresh look at the object mentioned, which shows the latter from a new and unexpected side.
In irony, which is our next item of consideration, subjectivity lies in the evaluation of the phenomenon named. The essence of this SD consists in the foregrounding not of the logical but of the evaluative meaning. The context is arranged so that the qualifying word in irony reverses the direction of the evaluation, and the word positively charged is understood as a negative qualification and (much-much rarer) vice versa.
Irony thus is a stylistic device in which the contextual evaluative meaning of a word is directly opposite to its dictionary meaning, So, like all other SDs, irony does not exist outside the context, which varies from the minimal – a word combination, as in J. Steinbeck’s “She turned with the sweet smile of an alligator,” – to the context of a whole book, as in Ch: Dickens, where one of the remarks of Mr. Micawber, known for his complex, highly bookish and elaborate style of speaking about the most trivial things, is introduced by the author’s words “… Mr. Micawber said in his usual plain manner”.
What Trojan hero did the Romans considered themselves descended from? – Aeneas. What Greek historian described and explained Rome’s rise to power? – Polybius Who were the legendary twin brothers who founded Rome in 753 B.C.? – Romulus and Remus What three things did Polybius consider the main causes of Rome’s greatness? Which Hellenistic philosophy taught that we should strive for “ ...
In both examples the words “sweet” and “plain” reverse their positive meaning into the negative one due to the context, micro- in the first, macro- in the second case. In the stylistic device of irony it is always possible to indicate the exact word whose contextual meaning diametrically opposes its dictionary meaning. This is why this type of irony is called verbal irony. There are very many cases, though, which we regard as irony, intuitively feeling the reversal of the evaluation, but unable to put our finger on the exact word in whose meaning we can trace the contradiction between the said and the implied.
The effect of irony in such cases is created by a number of statements, by the whole of the text. This type of irony is called sustained, and it is formed by the contradiction of the speaker’s (writer’s) considerations and the generally accepted moral and ethical codes. Many examples of sustained irony are supplied by D. Defoe, J. Swift or by such XX-ieth c. writers as S. Lewis, K. Vonnegut, E. Waugh and others. Exercise IV. In the following excerpts you will find mainly examples of verbal irony. Explain what conditions made the realization of the opposite evaluation possible.
Pay attention to the part of speech which is used in irony, also its syntactical function: 11. Several months ago a magazine named Playboy which concentrates editorially on girls, books, girls, 15. Bookcases covering one wall boasted a half-shelf of literature. (T. C. ) 17. Last time it was a nice, simple, European-style war. (I. Sh. ) 19. But every Englishman is born with a certain miraculous power that makes him master of the world. As the great champion of freedom and national’independence he conquers and annexes half the world and calls it Colonization. (B. Sh. )