Ironing out Irony

Published May 29, 2012 by Ms. Nine


The artful use of irony can stab your readers in the heart (you murderer!), make them twist their heads (they never saw THAT coming!), or make them giggle in delight (what a punch line!).

Irony is a tricky idea, especially when there are multiple takes on the term.  Straightening the strands of irony requires conditioners, wide-tooth combs, and maybe a little heat.  To make it manageable, let’s start with a master.

Think William Sydney Porter, the embodiment of situational irony.   After his release from prison, he wrote for the New York World as O. Henry in an attempt to break away from his past.  Yet many of his stories were written while he was incarcerated.   The irony that hallmarked his stories and threaded through his life,  also signed the guest book at his funeral service.  Somehow the church double-booked O. Henry’s funeral with a wedding.  Can you imagine hearing The Strife is O’er, immediately followed by the Wedding March?  You have to appreciate the irony in that.

Can you find the irony in this?

“Please, please, PLEASE, don’t tell Mom about this Sunday,” Sarah begged her brother.

“You think I want her in on it? Don’t worry.  It’ll be great not having Mom at the around,” Mike reassured her. “I’ll even bring the Dos Equis.”

“You can count on me to keep this a secret,” piped Julie, the youngest sister. “I’m going to invite my newest bad-boy.  This is one Sunday I plan to enjoy.”

Sarah cranked up the music as she and her co-conspirators danced in the living room to Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It.   The smiling dancers reveled in the anticipation of a Sunday that wouldn’t be another every-Sunday-is-Mothers’-Day family gathering.

That’s why on Wednesday Sarah punched Mike’s number after listening to this voicemail:  Sarah, this is Mom.  Mike’s wife told me she can’t come over for Sunday dinner because she’s going to your house instead.  Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to cook on Sunday?  How wonderful!  I’ll see you then.

Mike answered on the first ring.

“Irene has a big mouth,” Sarah said.

“Don’t blame her.  You know Mom has a way of sniffing out secrets.” Mike continued, “I say we go ahead as planned, despite the interference.”

“Mom’s gonna have a heart attack!”

“So what.  We’ll tone it down while she’s here, then ramp it up after she leaves.”

“Okay, baby brother, but any and all fallout is on you.”


Late that Sunday afternoon, as the dinner turned cold Sarah remarked, “Mom’s late. Let’s start without her.”  Suddenly, as if on cue, there was a knock at the door.  Unknown to Sarah, the knock at the door did not herald the dreaded visitor.   Before Sarah opened it, she forced her painted lips into a grin.

“Mom!” she said, without noticing the knuckles of the knocker, immediately drawing some embarrassment from the policeman who shifted his weight from side to side.

“Are you Ms. Wainwright?”

“Yes.  Is there a problem?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Wainwright, there’s been an accident involving your mother.”

Thanks for reading!

For more on irony, the art of the unexpected, check out this cute site:


2 comments on “Ironing out Irony

  • Hmm. I was kind of expecting her mother to show up with an appearance that suggested she was ready for her own weekend revival of Woodstock. — Yes, I know I’m a bit late. (Better late than never.)

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