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What literary technique's name derives from a Greek word that means "feigned ignorance"?

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Answer: irony

In general, the word irony denotes a way of speaking in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is said. An example of this (in its most basic form) is saying "That was bright" when someone does something stupid.

However, as a literary technique, irony is when authors allow audiences to perceive meanings and ramifications that the characters don't. [If anyone can think of some good examples of this from movies, please let me know.]

The word derives from the Greek eironeia, simulated ignorance. The Greek word denoted the discussion technique used, for example, by Socrates, where: (1) you pretend NOT to know something; (2) you get your opponent to explain it to you; and then (3) use this explanation as the starting point for picking apart the opponent's argument and presenting yours.


Have you seen the old Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rope? It is full of irony. It is a murder mystery, but there is no mystery for the audience, as you see the murder right at the beginning and you know who the killers are. The irony is in knowing all this while the rest of the characters in the movie don't and then you get to see one of them figure it out.
markcindyallen at

Movie Suggestion: How about Cameron Diaz complimenting Ben Stiller on his "hair gel" in "There's Something About Mary"?
derek at

"I see dead people" is an example of irony since the Bruce Willis character is unaware that he is dead. I can't remember tha name of the movie though. [Mootguy: The Sixth Sense - but I don't know if this is a good example because the audience doesn't know that Willis is dead, so they don't have any more information than the characters do.]
jaxon at

I would think that "That was bright" in the light of something stupid would be sarcasm and not irony. [Mootguy: According to the COD, it IS an example of irony because intended the meaning is the opposite of what is said. However, it is also an example of sarcasm, because words are being used to inflict pain.]
grogzetti at

The contrast between what one says and what one means is the simplest form of irony called verbal irony. Sarcasm often takes this form, although not all sarcasm is ironic nor is all verbal irony sarcastic.

Your example is correct and there are many others built into our language as cliches. ("Good job!" can mean literally what it says or be ironic by suggesting that a person goofed. You can probably think of others.)

The second kind of irony you're referring to is called dramatic irony which is related to situational irony, the two being closely related and often difficult to tell apart (and maybe don't have to be separated anyway).

If you want to use films as a source of examples, there are zillions to choose from: TOOTSIE (We know Dustin Hoffmann is a man, but many of the other characters think he is a woman. This leads to ironic complications in many scenes.) THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (We know Glenn Ford used to be a gunslinger, but the townsfolk don't.) UNDERWORLD (Situational Irony that differs slightly from dramatic irony in that even the audience doesn't learn certain truths until late in the story--Michael Corvin is a mutant who has traits of both vampires and werewolves)

Hope this helps. P.S. The writer's example of THE SIXTH SENSE is situational irony because it's kept from the character as well as the audience. The truth, when it comes out, has ironic consequences.
renzitc at

How's about this? From the movie LA Confidential: Captain Dudley Smith: Have you a valediction, boy-o? Jack Vincennes: Rollo Tomasi. Smith (played by James Cromwell) doesn't know that Rollo Tomasi doesn't exist. But the audience knows it. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) tells Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) that Tomasi is Exley's personification of the generic bad guy, or something like that. And following Smith's murder of Vincennes, and Vincennes' last words, when Smith mentions the name of Tomasi to Exley, Exley knows something's fishy. Vincennes used the name of Rollo Tomasi to point the finger of suspicion, and ultimately trap, Smith.
clooneman at

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