Irony can be considered a pivotal strategy, positioned somewhere between discourse destruction and refutation. Irony ridicules a speech that pretends to be dominant or hegemonic, by implicitly referring to some contextually available irrefutable rebutting evidence.

1. Irony as refutation

Ironic development originates from a hegemonic D0 discourse. A hegemonic discourse is a discourse which prevails within a group, which has the power to direct or legitimize the actions of the group, and which opposes the discourse of a minority.

In a situation Sit_1, the participant S1, the future target of the irony, claims that D0, with which S2, the future ironist, disagrees. S2 submits to D0, although he or she is not convinced of the validity of the argument.

S1_1 (future Target)   — What about taking a shortcut to reach the summit?
S2_1 (future ironist)   — Hmm … It seems that there might be icy zones…
S1_2                             — No problem, I know the place, it’s easy going! (= D0)

S2_2                             — Oh well then…

Later, in situation Sit_2, when the group finds itself on a rather slippery slope, the ironist takes up S1’s discourse, as the circumstances make this discourse indefensible:

S2_Ironic  — No problem, I know the place, it’s easy going!

This last statement sounds strange:

— In the present circumstances, the statement is absurd.
— If the original discussion has been forgotten, it is interpreted as a humorous euphemism or antiphrasis.
— If it is still present in the memory of the participants, then the statement is entirely ironic: S2_Ironic repeats S1_2, whereas the circumstances show that the statement is obviously, and tragically, false. The mechanism is rather similar to an ad hominem argument, what the adversary says is opposed to what he or she does, and this is clear to all parties involved. The facts being self-evident, S1 is now shown to be wrong and is seen to have misled the company. Irony combines malice and humor, S. Dismissal.

Ironic destruction and scientific refutation can be opposed as follows:

Scientific Refutation Ironic Discourse Destruction
S1 says ‘D0 S1 says ‘D0in situation Sit_1
The opponent S2 quotes D0, and explicitly attributes D0 to S1 The ironist, S2, says ‘D’ in situation Sit_2:
— D resumes, echoes D0
— D = D0 is not explicitly referred to its occurrence in Sit_1, but the link is easy to make; either everybody recalls, or S2 gives a cue to recall (for ex. S2 mimics S1’s voice)
The opponent refutes D0 with explicit and concluding arguments Contextual evidence drawn from Sit_2, destroys D = D0.
This evidence is so obvious that (S2 thinks that) it does not need explanation.

2. Countering the ironic move

Ducrot uses the following example, consisting of a statement and a description of its context:

I told you yesterday that Peter would come to see me today, and you didn’t believe me. Peter being physically present today, I can tell you in an ironic way ‘You see, Peter did not come to see me’. (Ducrot 1984, p. 211).

Some times ago, in , the speaker and his or her partner “You” had a debate about whether or not Peter will be coming. The speaker, the (future) ironist lost this debate. Now, the evidence of Peter’s presence “you see” is given as a conclusive argument, as concrete proof, supposed to silence You, proving You wrong. But the game is not necessarily over. Irony is mainly studied on the basis of the isolated ironic statements, whereas it is a sequential phenomenon with two kinds of developments, depending on the target reaction. If he or she stays mute and embarrassed, the ironist wins the game; if he or she retorts, then the game continues. Here, You can reply that he or she can certainly see that Peter is actually there, but that does not prove that Peter came to see the interlocutor:

— No, Peter did not come to see you. He actually came to see your sister.

This refutation or reversal of irony applies the scheme of substitution of a motives.

3. Irony can dispense with markers

In Zürich, Switzerland, in the years 1979-1980, a youth protest movement made quite an impression on the city’s people.

There are two television shows which caused extreme shock in German-speaking Switzerland. The first, a popular show, was disturbed by members of the “Movement”, who put a stop to it. The second, later referred to as “Müller’s Show”[1], showed two militants dressed as members of the bourgeoisie from Zurich, and seriously voicing the opinion that the “Movement” should be repressed with the utmost severity, the autonomous center should be closed etc. The sensationalist media and some individuals orchestrated a campaign of defamation after the shock of this second show. Let us note in passing that the term müllern entered the vocabulary of the movement […]. The creation of paradoxical situations was one specialty of the “movement”.
Gérald Béroud, [Work Values and Youth Movement], 1982[2]

The ironic discourse D consists in the strict repetition, with a straight face, of the primary discourse D0, as held by the opponents; D and D0 coincide perfectly. The ironized discourse D0 is the typical bourgeois argumentative discourse, taken with its contents, its modes of expression, its dress codes, gestures, body postures, modes of arguing following the bourgeois norms of maintaining a calm and courteous atmosphere, ritually invoking some counter-discourse in the role of the “honorable opponent” while ignoring the real existing strong, deep disagreement as well as power and strength relations. The entire practice of the argued, contradictory, quasi-Popperian mode of discussion is ironized and negated by Müller’s sarcastic behavior.

Irony is a borderline case of an argument based on self-evidence. It becomes dramatically prominent in situations where argumentation is vain or impossible. The following remarks were written in Czechoslovakia, a country which at that time, was under the dictatorial rule of a communist regime:

In intellectual circles, the attitude towards official propaganda often results in the same contempt that one feels for the drunkard’s drunkenness or the graphomaniac’s lucubration. As intellectuals particularly appreciate the subtleties of a certain absurd humor, they may read the Rude Pravo editorial or the political discourse printed there for pleasure. But it is very rare to meet someone who takes this seriously.
Petr Fidelius, [Lies Must be Taken Seriously], 1984[3]

[1] Name of the two delegates of the movement, Hans and Anna Müller.

[2] Gérald Béroud, “Valeur travail et mouvement de jeunes”, Revue Internationale d’Action Communautaire 8/48, 1982, note 62, p. 28. Television program (in German) available at: [] (09-20-2013).

[3] Petr Fidelius, Prendre le mensonge au sérieux. Esprit, 91-92, 1984, p. 16. The Rude Pravo was the newspaper of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, during the Communist period.