I’ve heard this comparison made incorrectly enough lately that I thought it worth mentioning, namely that sarcasm and irony and are not exactly the same thing. The sarcastic comment is one that has a bite to it — a little bite or a big bite, but it’s still a bite — whereas the ironic comment is broader and, while it may encompass sarcasm, it’s certainly not limited to sarcasm.
In The King’s English, Fowler writes, “any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.”
Telling someone “Great Job” when they screw something up is sarcasm — in fact, it’s pretty vicious in my opinion. Yes, there’s irony there.
There are different types of irony … there’s verbal irony and there’s situational irony. Situational irony is a wonderful literary device … things can happen by coincidence or fate, and the unexpected can result.
Driving down the road, not paying attention to the lights, and rear-ending a vehicle that happens to be a tow truck … now that’s ironic. It’s situational.
Being at a band concert where the tuba player suddenly becomes ill — thus requiring the need of a substitute — and knowing I play the tuba AND happen to have my mouthpiece with me … well, that’s ironic too.
No, none of those things has happened to me … just day dreaming.
The study of irony would be interesting … that may be something to tackle someday. For now, I just want to point out that when someone says something ironic, it may or may not be sarcastic. Look before you leap.