Difference Between Satire vs. Irony
Satire is a kind of wit that ridicules people, places, actions, or ideas. Satire is more cynical than parody and burlesque, and it uses laughter as a weapon to criticize or scorn. For example, if instead of saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” someone says, “A bird in the hand is an awful mess,” he or she is twisting an expression just for fun. But when the American humorist Ambrose Bierce said “A bird in the hand is worth what it will bring,” he was criticizing human greed, and this remark is an example of satire.
Other examples of satire can be found in the fables of Aesop, which give human stupidities and vices to birds, foxes, and other animals. One of the greatest satires in literature is Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), which savagely attacks human vices—particularly those of certain English officials. The satire is hidden beneath Gulliver’s adventures and humorous incidents.
Another form of humor and wit is irony—a remark or situation that means the opposite of what it appears to mean. A good example of irony is using “Tiny” as a nickname for a gigantic person.
Understatement is a type of irony in which something is represented as much less than it actually is. Saying that Babe Ruth was a fairly good ballplayer is an example of understatement. A person not realizing that his or her “leg was being pulled” might respond by saying, “Fairly good! Are you kidding?”
The opposite of understatement is overstatement, or exaggeration. For example, a person who comes home after a hard day at work and says “I’m dead” is, of course, exaggerating. Such exaggeration in speaking or writing is called hyperbole.
Irony is found in the works of many writers, past and present. One writer who made excellent use of irony was Mark Twain. Some of Twain’s best-known observations include:
“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”
“All the modern inconveniences.”
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
“Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.”