There's an old saying that goes, "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." It's safe to assume the person who coined that phrase was not a fan of verbal irony. We'll go over the definition of verbal irony soon, but for now, ruminate on that fact.
Dialogue is one of the key parts of screenwriting. Sure, we have silent films and quiet moments, but the dialogue is where many writers cut their teeth and prove their worth. It's where you can prove you should punch-up other scripts and can impress execs. You can even mention its roots in Ancient Greek literature. Irony occurs all over.
So today I want to look at how you can work verbal irony into your dialogue as well as define it and learn some examples.
Let's get going! But first, we have to start with the root of irony; dramatic irony.
What is Dramatic Irony?
As I mentioned in the opening, dramatic irony takes a set of events or a scene and juxtaposes it against what's occurring on the screen (or page). But what is dramatic irony?
Dramatic Irony Definition:
Dramatic irony is a literary or film technique originally used in Greek tragedy, where the significance of a character's words or actions is clear to the audience but unknown to the character. One of the types of dramatic irony is verbal irony.
What is Verbal Irony? (Definition and Examples)
Ready for some witty wordplay? Verbal irony allows characters to spar with one another, trading quips, jabs, and other remarks.
Verbal Irony Definition
In movies and TV, these are lines given that directly contradict what we see on screen. A lot of times, these can be sarcastic comments, but they're not always supposed to be mean or snippy. Sometimes these are self-deprecating or lines that one character believes, but the audience knows there's humor behind them.
Verbal irony is encapsulated in the use of words to mean something different than what they appear to mean.
Types of Verbal Irony
Although all forms of verbal irony have the same definition, there exist particular uses for each.
- Sarcasm: While all sarcasm is verbal irony, not all verbal irony is sarcastic. Sarcasm is utilized to mock someone or something.
- Socratic Irony: This is when individuals feign ignorance as a means of emphasizing someone else's ignorance.
- Understatement: When a speaker devalues the importance of something that has more worth or significance than described.
- Overstatement: When a speaker inflates the significance of something of little value or exaggerates the intended meaning.
- Stable irony: a type of verbal irony where the author's real meaning is clear to the reader.
- Unstable irony: a type where the author's meaning is not clear to the reader right away.
Further Define Verbal Irony
Verbal irony is a figure of speech or a line of dialogue where the speaker intends to mean something that contrasts with the literal, or actual meaning of what they are saying. The best example of this is to think about someone outside during a blizzard saying, "What a lovely day!"
Sometimes, there is a crossover between verbal irony and sarcasm.
People use these statements as double entendre, to poke fun, and to heighten emotions from a certain scene. A lot of times, we see these statements in the comedy genre, since they tend to undercut or offer comedic relief. But they apply to every genre.
Verbal Irony in All Genres
The contrasting lines have room in every kind of writing. We can see the verbal irony in dialogue across every single genre out there.
Whether it's someone on a bad date in a rom-com saying, "This is going great," to a person in a horror movie or show saying, "I'm not scared at all."
We can find a few specific examples to check out.
Verbal Irony Examples in Film and TV
At the top of the list, I cannot think of another character whose dialogue embodies verbal irony better than John McClane in Die Hard.
There are many examples within the movie, but my favorite is "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..." which he utters while stuck in an air duct, obviously not having a great time.
Or what about in Game of Thrones?
That show has a ton of irony in it, but one line of verbal irony I always loved was when Visery dies, which is ironic because he dies after Drogo pours molten gold on his head, giving him the crown he has been begging for since the show's pilot.
'Game of Thrones'Credit: HBOFinally, we should talk about the most famous instance of verbal irony ever.
It's in Dr. Strangelove when we hear this line, "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! This is the war room!" That's the perfect example of something that makes that movie and Stanley Kubrick so special.
'Dr. Strangelove'Credit: Columbia Pictures
What do you think are some of the best uses of verbal irony ever? And what are some movies where irony occurs that we left out?
Let us know in the comments.