Verbal Irony

On top of being the most popular form of irony, verbal irony serves an important purpose in modern, interpersonal relationships. It can be utilized to show solidarity, display your wit and to affirm comradery amongst friends and peers. Verbal irony can also be utilized to, "criticize whilst not losing face and at the same time minimize the threat to the face of the listener, thus adhering to the rules of politeness." (Irony--Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics)

Take a group of friends that would like to go to a movie together. Say the group pays for their tickets but then decide to give them to one person for safe keeping. If that person were to accidently lost the tickets, their friends might say "Good going!" Since the tickets did not cost their friends a tremendous amount of money, it would likely come off as a good-natured tease, without berating the person and allows everyone to save face. Of course, the proper execution of verbal irony (particularly in a social setting) depends on not the words alone but many other factors like the intension and sincerity of the user.

Verbal irony (typically in combination with sarcasm) can also be used with the specific goal of humor in mind. Anyone who has ever seen the Colbert Report likely has a firm understanding of the concept. It is important to understand that despite the success of similar shows and media, that using verbal irony as an effective tool for humor can be incredibly difficult. Using verbal irony with comedic intent requires skill, good timing, the appropriate attitude and a firm understanding of the context under which you are attempting the said ironic statement. When someone is missing one or more of these traits, their jokes can fall flat or even offend other people.

When people attend a stand-up comedy show, it is generally accepted that the humor therein may be off-color but not necessarily in a manner that is designed to hurt or single out a group or individual for hatred. Moreover, and audience that has little or no experience with a certain subject may dismiss the commentary as either harmless or inoffensive. For instance, the comedian might make a joke about someone dying car crash; given that many people have not experienced a car crash, or have gotten through a fender bender with a few scrapes, it is likely that the audience would not consider the joke particularly offensive. However, if that same comedian told the same joke for an audience who had lost a friend or family member in a car accident it could be very upsetting, all because of the context the joke was told under.