Irony versus Sarcasm

Many of the modern pundits banter about the term “ironic,” and at one time or another, I’ve been tempted to call this the “Age of Irony.”

I doubt that’s the right term. Right over, or right under – depending on my mood, the kitty cam, I have a few select books I actually use for reference. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, Hand’s Planets in Transit, an Oxford Reference Dictionary, and most important: A Handbook to Literature [C. Hugh Holman & William Harmon. NY: Macmillan, 1986]. It’s one of those books I had an earlier copy as a textbook, and I’ve kept a current copy around for references just like this.

p. 254 [6th edition]: Irony A broad term referring to the recognition of a reality different from appearance. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the actual term intent is expressed in words that carry opposite meaning. We may say, “I could care less” while meaning “I couldn’t care less.” Irony is likely to be confused with sarcasm, but differs from sarcasm in that it is usually less harsh. [and so on].

It’s not an age of irony. We’re all a bunch of sarcastic little snits.

I haven’t checked the Oxford-English Dictionary, the publication that added Homer Simpson’s “D’oh” to the English language, but I wonder if a definition, through vulgar usage, has changed. “Decimate” means to “reduce by one tenth.” Come one, look at the root of the word, “Dec” is 10 [X] in Latin. When you “decimate the opposition,” you reduce the opposition by 1/10th. It doesn’t mean to “obliterate, over run, and thoroughly ruin.”

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