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Isn’t it ironic?

Aprile 2015
L’ironia è forse la forma di umorismo più difficile da definire e la più delicata, in quanto non tutte le persone (e le culture) la colgono in egual misura. Gli inglesi però la amano, è il loro cavallo di battaglia!

di Cath McLellan © British Council

File audio:

Michel Houellebecq
Michel Houellebecq

Speaker: Rachel Roberts (Standard British accent)

Think of your favourite joke. Now imagine telling it to a foreign friend. Do you think they would laugh? Some humour (especially visual humour) is universal and amusing to people all around the world, but it is also true that culture plays a big part in what we find funny, and what people laugh at in the UK might be very different from what people laugh at in Japan or Brazil. British people have a reputation for having an eccentric sense of humour, and one important feature of British humour is the use of irony.


Some people disagree about exactly what irony is. In films, theatre and literature, dramatic irony is often used. Dramatic irony is when the audience (or reader) knows something that the characters do not know. For example, a man decides to buy his wife flowers for their anniversary, but the audience or reader knows that his wife is at home having an affair with another man. This type of irony is not necessarily funny, but is used to add drama.


Situational irony is another type of irony which is often used for comic effect. Imagine that you are late for a job interview. The bus takes 30 minutes to get there, so you decide to pay for a taxi which is quicker. You get in the taxi and feel happy because you will arrive on time, but then the taxi breaks down and you have to get out. At that moment the bus drives past you. You arrive late for the interview.


The expected results in this situation (that you would save time by taking a taxi and not the bus) are different from the real results, and this is called situational irony. Of course, for some people this could simply be described as a frustrating situation! And that is why many people disagree about which situations are really ironic. Canadian singer Alanis Morissette wrote a famous pop song in 1996 called “Ironic,” describing ironic situations. It included lyrics such as “It’s like rain on your wedding day.” Many people argued that this was not an ironic situation, but just an unfortunate one. Can you think of an ironic situation that you have been in?


“As soon as you stop wanting something, you get it.”
– Andy Warhol

“If you think this Universe is bad, you should see some of the others.”
– Philip K. Dick

“Don’t underestimate the value of irony — it is extremely valuable.”
– Henry James, Washington Square

“Irony is wasted on the stupid”
– Oscar Wilde

“Who else but me is ever going to read these letters?”
– Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

“People often say that the English are very cold fish, very reserved, that they have a way of looking at things – even tragedy – with a sense of irony. There’s some truth in it; it’s pretty stupid of them, though. Humour won’t save you; it doesn’t really do anything at all. You can look at life ironically for years, maybe decades; there are people who seem to go through most of their lives seeing the funny side, but in the end, life always breaks your heart. It doesn’t matter how brave you are, how reserved, or how much you’ve developed a sense of humour, you still end up with your heart broken. That’s when you stop laughing. In the end there’s just the cold, the silence and the loneliness. In the end, there’s only death.”
– Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles

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Lyrics. Questa parola è un false friend. Non ha niente a che fare con la lirica come genere di canto, che si chiama opera (cantante lirica si dice opera singer). In questo caso lyrics (plurale) è il testo, le parole che compongono una canzone. Il paroliere si chiama lyricist.

Cold fish. Questa espressione si usa spesso per definire una persona fredda, che non mostra le emozioni.