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I came across this sentence:

The most interesting job paid the least, in keeping with the laws of irony.

Someone please explain how is this ironic?

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    The only irony is the author's (much like Alanis Morissette's) complete lack of understanding of irony! :) – Michael Broughton Jul 30 '15 at 12:57
  • Thanks, Michael! I was wondering if it's supposed to be situational irony but was very confused. Then my friend threw another sentence at me to try and make me understand situational irony. "I felt dumb in front of him. That, ironically, made me feel happy." But I still am confused. – Curious Jul 30 '15 at 13:04
  • Agreed, not ironic at all, more like moronic. – htm11h Jul 30 '15 at 13:04
  • I would like to know more about the author of the sentence and what establishes "laws of irony" in his/her context or is this simply expressing a reference to the definition. – htm11h Jul 30 '15 at 13:22
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    I think it would be ironic if the most interesting job paid more, as that would conflict with the idea that in a market system, the less appealing the work, the greater the compensation needs to be. – j_random_hacker Jul 30 '15 at 15:48
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I have heard about this before. It was referenced as irony of opposition. Take a glance at Ironies and Paradoxes by Hugh Brenin of Queen's University. I cannot do it justice in this response.

ABSTRACT: In contemporary literary culture there is a widespread belief that ironies and paradoxes are closely akin. This is due to the importance that is given to the use of language in contemporary estimations of literature. Ironies and paradoxes seem to embody the sorts of a linguistic rebellion, innovation, deviation, and play, that have throughout this century become the dominant criteria of literary value. The association of irony with paradox, and of both with literature, is often ascribed to the New Criticism, and more specifically to Cleanth Brooks. Brooks, however, used the two terms in a manner that was unconventional, even eccentric, and that differed significantly from their use in figurative theory...

There is more at the link provided, I wanted to include something here in case the link vanishes.

  • Why the down vote with no explanation? – htm11h Jul 30 '15 at 13:17
  • I didn't downvote you. I am very new to this site. Tried upvoting but got a notification about reputation points. I'm reading the paper you linked here. Thank you :) – Curious Jul 30 '15 at 13:18
  • No problem, the question was directed to the down voter. I am new too and can not down vote either. – htm11h Jul 30 '15 at 13:23
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    I've quite happily canceled the downvote with my upvote! It should not be possible to downvote without giving a reason (possibly anonymized). – Marconius Jul 30 '15 at 14:04
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    If I might hazard a guess, the downvote is likely attributable to the fact that you have not answered the OP's question. Your answer would work better as a comment. – Jake Regier Jul 30 '15 at 16:49
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The nearest it comes to irony is as follows:


Irony - /ˈʌɪrəni/ Noun

• A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.

Oxford Dictionaries


It is subjective whether someone expects to get paid highly for an interesting job. I suppose it might be ironic for some people but not for others — it depends on their expectations.

  • By that logic, wouldn't irony itself be very subjective? That's interesting. – Curious Jul 30 '15 at 13:15
  • Would irony not be a state of affairs that's contrary to what a reasonable person might expect? If we base irony of a personal perception/expectation of an event, that would make irony very hard to pin down, especially in cases of conflicting opinions. Someone will always find it ironic if they did not agree with a decision, yet now realize it resulted in something positive for them after all. – Flater Jul 30 '15 at 15:18
  • "reasonable" is a highly subjective term, the same as "irony". – Sankarane Jul 30 '15 at 15:23
  • +1 but I feel your answer needed expanding a bit. Sorry if I have stolen a bit of thunder here. – Jascol Jul 30 '15 at 15:35
  • @Curious - It's subjective in that particular case because of the definition I quoted. It has the word 'expect' in it. Other types of irony may not contain the idea of expectation, they may be categorical and therefore not subjective. – chasly from UK Jul 30 '15 at 16:53
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Just to further Chasly from UK's (Sorry Chasly) answer; 'sense 3' in the OED lists this definition - which I agree would seem to fit the OP's phrase:

  1. A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what was or might be expected; an outcome cruelly, humorously, or strangely at odds with assumptions or expectations.

However (and here is what I expand on), the OED also makes the interesting point that the very definition of 'irony' is rather subjective anyway and has changed a lot over time:

The precise application of the term has varied over time and remains the subject of much discussion. Irony is first recorded as a rhetorical figure used in sentences and (later) extended pieces of writing having a particular tone and intent. In 20th-cent. criticism the application of irony has expanded to encompass non-verbal expression in fields such as art and music where it denotes a distancing from and playful engagement with what has come before. For a fuller discussion see E. N. Hutchens ‘The Identification of Irony’ in ELH (1960) 27 352-63 and N. Knox The Word 'Irony' & its Context, 1500–1755 (1961).

I am wondering if the the term irony is undergoing an 'Alanis Morissette-isation' (if I can coin a phrase), similar to the way the term 'literally' is now commonly accepted to mean 'figuratively.'

Irony no longer seems to 'literally' mean irony (so to speak).

  • This is what most people would now call sarcasm, which also meant something else before. I was thinking about writing a similar answer but I doubt my opinion on the matter, prioritizing words is one this democratic website would like, since I'd propose we should tell people that they are using irony incorrectly, especially since these people are quick to do the same. Literally and figuratively make good examples of my opinion, since that type of word change shows loss of ability to communicate. How is a jury supposed to parse "I literally killed him!"? Use words as they were meant to be used. – Tonepoet Aug 1 '15 at 16:08
  • The problem with your approach Tonepoet is that no matter how much you would like things to stay the same words will change meaning over time whether you like it or not. Language is in a constant state of flux - which is part of what makes it such an interesting area of study. Therefore I strongly disagree with your opinion. – Jascol Aug 2 '15 at 16:50
  • @Jascol I don't believe that your prediction of words changing over time is acceptable. Perhaps some small portion may, but green will and should always refer to the color green, not that it may not have other meanings, such as the word blue. The original form of the word should not and likely would not loose meaning, yet the context may cause the word to 'morph'. – htm11h Aug 11 '15 at 13:01

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