My understanding of irony comes from the movie "Reality Bites":

It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning

Frequently people use the term incorrectly, applying it where the actual meaning and the literal meaning are surprisingly similar in unintended ways.

A perfect example of the incorrect usage is the picture below.

It's definitely not irony, so what word can we use?

A picture of a building with a plaque denoting that George Orwell once lived in the building. Beside the plaque is a CCTV camera. Beneath the photo is the caption "Irony knows no bounds"

(Just in case the link has broken, it's a picture of a building with a plaque saying "George Orwell Lived Here". Pointing out in front of the building is a security camera.)

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    But it is ironic. George Orwell was against a police state and there is an emblem of the police state outside his house. How is that not ironic? Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:06
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    @Matt - My view of Orwell simply comes from reading "Animal Farm" and "1984". I was seeing this as an example of what Orwell was predicting. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:32
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    That's fair enough. There's more than one way to interpret a cat. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:35
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    I'm not sure, but this picture might suit your needs. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 10:32
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    the opposite of irony is wrinkly
    – user208955
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 0:13

5 Answers 5


apt (becase its what Orwell predicted)

also ironic (because its what Orwell opposed)

Ironically 'Orwellian' means the opposite of what Orwell believed. Which is what happens in 1984 : words meaning their opposites. So 'Orwellian' is Orwellian. How Apt.

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    +1 for pointing out what I hadn't registered before about the usage of "Orwellian". The same adjectival derivation based on what the author is best known for portraying, rather than that author's own value-system, applies to "Dickensian", for example. But it doesn't have the same ironic overtones, since it doesn't include the concept of "doublespeak" - a word which, somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), Orwell never in fact used. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 14:08
  • Interesting note here on "doublespeak" and Orwell.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 10:21
  • See also Kafka-esque. I imagine it's not at all unusual among adjectives derived from the names of dystopian writers. // That is not quite right, or at least not all of it: words do not mean their opposites, words are robbed of their meaning (often through conflation with their opposite). Consider the explanation of "doubleplus ungood", rather than the iconic "war is peace". // @FumbleFingers maybe, but as I recall he used "newspeak" plenty.
    – hunter2
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 11:49
  • Related to "words do not mean their opposites, words are robbed of their meaning": The case of "literally" being defined as also meaning "figuratively" in some places, as a result of common incorrect usage. Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 11:12


That security cameras appeared outside George Orwell's house, who predicted a surveillance state, was very fitting.


I read 1984 in... well, it was before 1984. I don't remember too many details about the book, but I do recall the main character had an odd nook in his house that allowed him to write, out of view of the ubiquitous security cameras placed almost everywhere.

I just looked up irony on-line, and came across these definitions:

  1. a form of humour in which you use words to express the opposite of what the words really mean

  2. a strange, funny, or sad situation in which things happen in the opposite way to what you would expect

  3. incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result

So, while I agree that the picture is not ironic in the sense of the first definition, I find it comically ironic in the sense of the second.


How about poetic justice?

(My favourite definition of irony is poetic injustice.)

  • I like the term "poetic". The problem with the word "justice" is that it has connotations of something actually happening to a person, while this is describing a general situation Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 10:33
  • I don't think poetic justice fits the bill here - it invariably means a well-deserved "balancing of the books". I know that some people who knew Eric Blair personally found him aloof and even dull, but he hardly deserved to be "lampooned" in this way! Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 14:17

Accepting the premise of your question, I don't think there's a specific term for when someone attempts to create or point out irony but actually fails to produce an incongruity. If there were, then it would be widely used for the Alanis Morissette song Ironic[*]. The direct opposite of irony in speech is "sincerity", the direct opposite of irony in a situation is "congruity" and synonyms "appropriateness", "harmony". Or "fitting", "apt", "expected", "condign". None of these on its own emphasises a failure to be ironic, but you could say, "that's not ironic, it's totally appropriate".

This example most definitely is irony. Some forms of irony require intent, such as sarcasm[**]. This is a fairly weak situational irony, which does not require any intent to be ironic.

Since it was not deliberate, it is also unintended irony.

Either description would be appropriate here. Call it "situational irony" as an analysis of why it's ironic. Call it "unintended irony" to highlight the haplessness of whoever put the camera up in that position.

The reason it's a fairly weak situational irony is that all we have here is two incongruous elements (honoring Orwell while conducting surveillance), and the idea that the presence of the the plaque should give someone thought not to create that incongruity by placing the camera. A stronger situational irony would be if the plaque somehow caused the camera's presence. It's not usually the case with blue plaques, but imagine that this house has been turned into an Orwell Museum, and the camera is there because of attempts to steal a valuable final manuscript of 1984. Or even stronger, imagine that the government, in homage to Orwell, has chosen to install offices in the building with his plaque on it, and the camera is there to inspect the public as they come and go from the offices ;-)

[*] although one can argue that Ironic must in fact be ironic. Some of the examples given can just about be argued ironic (e.g. "a no smoking sign on your cigarette break": it would be faintly ironic to be granted a formal break for the purposes of smoking by someone who then turns around and plasters no-smoking signs everywhere). However you argue it, though, the song either ironically contains no genuine examples of irony or else ironically fails to achieve even that irony. In short, if you look hard enough for irony you can generally find some.

[**] albeit not necessarily pre-meditated intent. If you're sincere but your words sound like sarcasm, they actually are not sarcasm. If you want to be sincere but at the last minute choose sarcasm out of a sense of perversity, you have intent but not pre-meditated intent. At least, that's what you'd tell the judge.

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