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英语修辞与写作·11.2 Irony的几种变异形式





11.2 Irony的几种变异形式

11.2A Paradox


More haste, less speed.

Paradoxically (enough), the faster he tried to finish, the longer it seemed to take him.

In fact, it appears that the teachers of English teach English so poorly largely because they teach grammar so well.

(W. Johnson)


11.2B Oxymoron

1) 汉语称此辞格为“矛盾修饰法”,例如cruel kindness, bitter-sweet memories等,修饰成分与被修饰成分之间或修饰成分内部看起来有矛盾,实则相反相成。

2) 矛盾修饰结构主要有以下5种形式:

Adj.+N. creative destruction, living death, tearful joy, etc.

Adj.+Adj. cold pleasant manner, sour-sweet days, poor rich guys, etc.

Adv.+Adj. dully bright, mercifully fatal, falsely true, etc.

V.+Adv. hasten slowly (=make haste slowly), shine darkly, groan loudly, etc.

N.+N. love-hate relationship, the sound of silence, etc.

11.2C Innuendo


— Have you finished my book yet?

— Sorry, I stopped at page 412, with 407 pages to go.


— It's rather cold today, isn't it?

— But the weatherman said it would be warm. He must take his readings in a bathroom.


11.2D Sarcasm

1) 同Innuendo相反,Sarcasm是指尖刻的挖苦,甚至是严厉的叱责,汉语中称作“讽刺”、“讥讽”、“挖苦”,等,常常是单刀直入,不留情面地以反话指责别人,使人家在感情上受到刺激甚至伤害。例如:

When children call a boy “Four Eyes” because he wears glasses, they are speaking in sarcasm.

“How unselfish you are!” said Ellen in sarcasm as her sister took the biggest piece of cake.

(Liang Shin-chiu)

2) Sarcasm和Irony, Satire同义,区别在于:Sarcasm的特点是尖刻,往往蓄意中伤或讥讽,Irony的特点是幽默或俏皮,故意使用同本意相反的说法,必须靠其语调或笔调表示真意;Satire可用来泛指Irony, Sarcasm等,其特点是用来讽刺社会现象或一些人,不像sarcasm那样指个人。试比较:

(A) Irony

In the novel Vanity Fair, W. M. Thackeray comments of a “good woman” that “those who know a really good woman are aware that she is not in a hurry to forgive, and that the humiliation of an enemy is a triumph to her soul.”

(B) Satires

A Kid being mounted on the roof of a lofty house, and seeing a Wolf pass below, began to revile him. The Wolf merely stopped to reply: “Oh, my brave friend, it is not you who revile me, but the place on which you are standing.”

(Aesop's Fables)

(C) Sarcasm

In the evening the poor wounded boy was taken to that experienced doctor, who by applying some poisonous concoction of crushed leaves to his left eye, succeeded in blinding him!

练习十一 (Exercise Eleven)

I. Preview Questions:

1. What are the three types of Irony?

2. Why is it said that Paradox implies some “truth which has turned a somersault”?

3. Can you tell the five common constructions of Oxymoron with examples?

4. Which is stronger and more direct between Innuendo and Sarcasm?

5. Irony, Sarcasm and Satire can be regarded as synonyms; each one of them, however, has something different from another either in meaning or usage. Do you agree with this statement?

6. Can you analyse the clue in an Irony with an example?

II. Identify the figure used in each sentence:

1. While in bed, she called to mind all the sour-sweet days.

2. That man's as practical as Don Quixote.

3. — Have you finished my book yet?

 — Sorry, I stopped at page 412, with 407 pages to go.

4. At eleven, she enjoyed the fright of reading Dracula.

5. How great you are to lord it over a small nation!

6. The child is father to the man.

III. Read the following and then decide whether each of the statements is true (T) or false (F):

Irony is using words in a sense very different from their usual meaning, often, in fact, the very reverse of it. The simplest form occurs when a term is given its opposite meaning. Here, for example, a historian describes a party at the court of the English King James I:

Later the company flocked to the windows to look into the palace courtyard below. Here a vast company had already assembled to watch the King's bears fight with greyhounds, and mastiffs bait a tethered bull. These delights were succeeded by tumblers on tightropes and displays of horsemanship.

(C. P.V. Akrigg)

By “delights” we are expected to understand “abominations,” “detestable acts of cruelty.”

In subtler forms irony plays more lightly over words, pervading an entire passage rather than twisting any single term into its opposite. An instance occurs in this sentence (the writer is commenting upon the decline of the medieval Knight at Arms):

In our end of time the chevalier has become a Knight of Pythias, or Columbus, or the Temple, who solemnly girds on sword and armor to march past his own drugstore.

(Morris Bishop)

None of Bishop's words means its reverse. Indeed the whole sentence is to be read literally. Still, Bishop intends us to smile at modern men playing at knighthood. The irony is found in the fact that some of the words ought not to be taken literally. A twentieth-century business man ought not to “solemnly gird on sword and armor,” unconscious of the disparity between romantic ideals and modern life.

Disparity is the common denominator in both these examples of irony: the difference between the ideal and the actual, between what we profess and what we do, between what we expect and what we get. In stressing such disparities, irony is fundamentally different from simile and metaphor, which build upon similarity. The whole point of irony is that things are not what they seem or what they should be or what we want them to be. They are different.

Irony reveals these differences in several ways. One is by using words in a double sense (“delights”), making them signify both the ideal and the actual. Another is by setting side by side contrasting images of what could be (or once was) and what is (the chevalier girding on his sword and the neighborhood druggist). Either way, we are made conscious of the gap between “ought” and “is”: people ought to treat dumb animals kindly, for instance; they do take pleasure in sadism.

Writers using irony must be reasonably sure that readers will understand the special sense in which they use their language. Sometimes the ironist depends upon the general knowledge and attitudes of the audience. Akrigg's ironic use of “delights” is successful because modern readers know that such amusements are not delightful. Here is another example of irony that is played off against the reader's values and expectations:

Proud as a peacock, NBC announced an uplifting afternoon of sports programming. “In Chicago,” the press release read, “six night club strong men compete for the title of ‘America's Toughest Bouncer’ as they throw a 110-pound stuntman for distance and accuracy, and run an obstacle course by leaping a bar and threading through a maze of chairs and tables to crash through a door.”

Supplementing this cultural offering was a chug-a-lug drinking contest, a tug-of-war between Teamsters and Longshoremen and a field-gunnery meet in which teams of the Royal navy in England race against the clock to dismantle a cannot, reassemble it and fire it three times.

(Melvin Durslag)

Durslag does not label the words “uplifting” and “cultural offering” as ironic. He depends upon his readers knowing that tossing a human being “for distance and accuracy” is not an uplifting cultural event. And he assumes-properly — that they will recognize the allusion to NBC's promotional slogan (“Proud as a peacock.”) and understand the irony.


1. Irony differs from simile and metaphor by building upon similarities.

2. Irony usually contains the difference between the ideal and the actual, between what we profess and what we do, between what we expect and what we get.

3. “The press” in Durslag's passage is an example of Metonymy, referring to newspapers and magazines in general.

4. In Akrigg's description, “these delights” are in ironical sense, which are “not what they seem or what they should be or what we want them to be”.

5. According to Bishop, it is something ironical for modern people to “solemnly gird on sword and armor.”

6. The words “uplifting” and “cultural offering” are not ironic in Durslag's writing.

7. If you want to express your idea in an ironical way, you should see that your reader(s) understand the special sense of your wording, especially in written form where you can't resort to the help from intonations, gestures or facial expressions.


Ⅱ. 1. Oxymoron; 2. Irony; 3. Innuendo; 4. Oxymoron; 5. Sarcasm; 6. Paradox

Ⅲ. 1. F 2. T 3. T 4. T 5. T 6. F 7. T


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