A. A. Milne, best known for his books about Winnie-the-Pooh, is much less noted as a prolific playwright of about forty plays. They are carefully crafted works that continue to entertain and delight readers and audiences of all ages in UK, but not in Japan. I have recently translated some of his plays into Japanese in order to revive his plays and introduce them to Japanese theatre lovers. Among his plays full of humour, warmth and kindness to human beings, I came across some instances of ‘Thank you’ used in an ironical way (dramatic irony?). This is a little surprise to me, but what is more surprising is the fact that this ironic meaning of ‘Thank you’ is entered in Oxford Dictionary of English (2003): ‘used ironically to assign blame or responsibility for something,’ while the compilers of learners’ dictionaries are wise enough not to enter this ironic use. Some ‘good’ words or phrases are known to be verbal irony. But I am wondering if ‘thank you’ has occupied a special place among such expressions as you know, great, funny, and nice (the latter two having an entry of ironic use in ODE). Reflecting my speech acts in my own tongue, I have noticed that some ‘good’ words can be used ironically almost in any situation. And in every corner of the world, there have been some cynical people around us. Irony is universal? Every word Dr. Johnson spoke may have had an ironical or cynical touch of meaning. An entry in his Dictionary: Cýnical, Cýnick: Having the qualities of a dog; currish; brutal; snarling; satirical. Does ‘thank you’ have an exceptionally special place among the ‘good’ words ironically used? If so, could you help me have some, if any, explanation or reasons for its frequent use among British people?

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    This sounds interesting, but please consider breaking up that wall of text into meaningful paragraphs with transition statements and whatnot. Apr 11, 2021 at 23:38
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    Many common phrases in English can be used ironically. I'm guessing this is true in most languages.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 12, 2021 at 0:04
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    I suspect that usage may have changed since Milne was writing plays (mainly the first four decades of the twentieth century) and also that "thank you" said ironically might well have been a more middle class convention than a working class one even then. In modern times (the last fifty years or so) I would say that "that's great" and other versions of the same phrase with 'fantastic', 'marvellous', 'wonderful' and 'just fine and dandy' (although that's getting archaic now) replacing 'great' are much more common than an ironic 'thank you'. 'Thanks for that', however is still quite common.
    – BoldBen
    Apr 12, 2021 at 1:34
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    “Thank you for sharing” is often ironic.
    – Xanne
    Apr 12, 2021 at 3:24
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    I'm not sure what you're asking. What would constitute "an exceptionally special place"? "Thank you" is sometimes used ironically; mostly it's used non-ironically when receiving something (either as a gift or part of a transaction), but plays will tend not to focus on mundane use of dialog. Is "the compilers of learners’ dictionaries are wise enough not to enter this ironic use" supposed to be ironic?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 12, 2021 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


'Thank you' is most often used to thank someone and this is non-ironic.

It can be used ironically where the context or tone of voice used indicates the opposite meaning is to be understood.

Irony is not particular to the English language. For example:

Tuy bhalo khorsot

Means you have done well in the Sylheti dialect of Bengali, but again by context or tone, it can be understood as the opposite, so as to mean you have not done well.

Likewise, I would suggest irony is common in every other language.

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