Sunday, March 13, 2016

Assessing the Ironic Twinge Factor for the Examples in Alanis Morissette's Song "Ironic"

I have been studying examples of irony, with a focus on situational irony.

Some background on this effort is discussed in this blog post.

You can view the current list of examples, and even submit your own example and values for the different properties, at this site:

It's All about the Twinge felt it, right? That twinge that hits when you recognize irony?...That's why irony is so difficult to pin down sometimes: sometimes, with irony--especially situational irony--you just have to feel it.

In Reversal of Expectations: An Odd Post on Irony on by Cherokee's Grip, Oct 19, 2012.

I have begun to hone in on using the "twinge" you feel when seeing certain types of irony. It is currently the primary indicator of what I am interested in. This twinge is the result of a number of factors that I am looking to continue articulating and quantifying for more and more examples. This (growing) list of factors includes incongruity, reversal of expectations, unexpectedness, "God(s) are messing with you", cosmic karma, and hypocrisy.

The purpose of the current post is to note the subjective "twinge" factor for each of the examples in Alanis Morissette's "Ironic". There has been much discussion and hand-wringing over this song with respect to definition of irony. Here, I am not judging the situations in her song relative to various definitions; instead, I am assessing it relative to that "twinge".

Note that, in my opinion, most of Alanis' examples are of the form "the universe is messing with you" - but if the degree of this is sufficient, it can still trigger that "ironic twinge" a little.

The twinge factor can have a value of 0 for no twinge at all, all the way up to 10. This is a purely subjective rating. A few examples I've come across with a high twinge factors are shown below.

"My manager told us we are no longer allowed to read at my job... I work at a library."
When someone writes "your an idiot".
Learned of this one from Universality and creativity in language (youtube) by Paolo Rosso.
A rabbit making a shadow puppet of a hand. From this pin on Pinterest.
A Few Examples with High "Irony Twinge" Factor

All of the examples from Morissette's "Ironic" have a low (subjective!) "ironic twinge" factor, but not all of them are zero for me. Do your ratings differ? Are they all zero for you? or are some higher? Please feel free to let me know at

Twinge Factor for Examples in Alanis Morrisette's "Ironic"
Situation Twinge
(0 to 10)
Rabbit making shadow puppet of hand.
This was not in her song - it is included for comparison purposes.
A free ride when you've already paid.
Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.
If it were just a single spoon, then this would be a zero. But the exaggerated degree triggers a bit of the twinge.
It's meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife.

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well, isn't this nice."

A traffic jam when you're already late.
An old man turned ninety-eight. He won the lottery and died the next day.
It's like rain on your wedding day.
It's the good advice that you just didn't take.
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay.
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late.
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Building a Database of User-Marked Irony

One of the things I am wanting to do is to put together a database of statements/situations that some people deem as "ironic".

One aspect of this involves assigning numeric values for various attributes often associated with irony - some info on my starts on this is described in this blog post. That blog post also mentions my site where you can submit your own characterizations of ironic images or situations.

Another strategy is to gather up things that people have already marked as "ironic" in some way. Here, I don't care if the dictionary says it is ironic. Rather, I am interested in things that people think are ironic.

I implemented a simple node.js app to get the past week's worth of tweets to get these tweets based on certain terms in the tweets. It takes about 20-30 minutes for this to run for a given search term (you have to throttle calls due to rate limits of twitter api; more details on the approach are at the bottom of this post).

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Uncanny Valley of the Neural Tickle of Irony

This is a short mid-process note after starting to experiment with an ironic simile generator - that is, it is intended to generate statements a long the line of

"as subtle as a sledgehammer"
Notes on the process by which these statements are being automatically generated are here.

Some of the generated statements are tweeted by @theironycat.

The generated statements can be simply confusing, and some are simply similes (I think because the early-stage logic being used needs a lot of work). But some are such unusual constructs that they seem to force your brain to try to overlay a scenario that would have generated the statement, and the scenario itself then has an unnaturalness to it, like those "almost there" robots that are more creepy than anything else. The term "uncanny valley" has been applied to those robots. Animations can also have that effect ("Polar Express" did that for me).

Thus, this "uncanny valley" notion applies to some of the generated examples when assessing its degree of that "vague feeling of irony" you might be familiar with, which itself is kind of a "neural tickle".

Below are a few examples that seemed to be from the uncanny valley of the neural tickle, or at least within its periphery. This assessment is obviously subjective.

Sometimes the statements, if the combination is odd enough, cause a neural tickle independent of any notion of irony. Some have a strange poignancy or imagery. These are included, too, because I like them.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Initial Experiments with Automatically Generating Ironic Statements

The other day, I came across a simple "ironic" phrase of the form below:

As subtle as a sledgehammer

I saw this example in Tony Veale's "Detecting and Generating Ironic Comparisons: An Application of Creative Information Retrieval".
Seeing this made me wonder if interesting examples of this type could be automatically generated. Veale mentions this in his paper, and he is looking at generating more sophisticated types of ironic statements. I believe these are sometimes referred to as ironic similes.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Towards a (Subjective) Numerical Categorization of Examples of Irony

I am very interested in irony, despite their being confusing attempts to define and characterize it.

I am embarking on a quest to categorize examples of irony based on numerical values for certain "properties" of the example. Ideally, I would eventually create a database of these categorizations.

The latest examples are embedded below (you can even submit your own). The full site is here:

'irony is a “...semantically complex process of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings" ... this process of differentiation and relation involves a rapid oscillation between two different meanings.'

Wikipedia article on Linda Hutcheon's "Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony"

"Even though we have to look at irony through the lens of irony, searching for its meaning gives deep insight into the ways people see their own existence."

J. Keller, irony, in The University of Chicago Theories of Media Keywords Glossary

"... irony is probably less understood now than ever."

Jon Winokur, The Big Book of Irony (2013)

"Irony: the one form of humor that everyone thinks they understand, when actually no one really does.

It is the cleverest joke ever played on mankind."

Dante Shepherd, Surviving the World #618 - Irony (2013?)

"... the fact that if irony were indeed a concept it should be possible to give a definition of irony. If one looks into the historic aspects of that problem, it seems to be uncannily difficult to give a definition of irony."

Paul de Man, The Concept of Irony, in Aesthetic Ideology (1996)

"Irony. The opposite of wrinkly."

Seen on t-shirts

"It's impossible to write or read about irony without either becoming ironic, falling victim to irony, or both. Schlegel calls this effect 'Unverstandlichkeit,' the impossibility of understanding. Kierkegaard provides us with a metaphor. Irony, like the greedy witch from a Danish fairy tale, must eventually devour even its own stomach."

Jennifer Thompson, Irony: a Few Simple Definitions (2003?, learned of via Winokur).

Is the difficulty in remembering ironic examples a property of irony's elusiveness itself?

This Oatmeal cartoon suggests that one of the main uses of the term "irony" is to "inspire massive threads of raging idiots on the internet to debate whether something is ironic or not."

While difficult to wrap one's arms around it with a satisfying definition, I sympathize with those who simply say "I know it when I see it."

When looking at an image or situation, there's a weird "feeling"/twinge surfaced: a depth of some kind that points you vaguely at an undercurrent of something.

What is that twinge?

I came across an irony post on a Georgia Bulldogs blog:

The situation of the Georgia Bulldogs losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks is not ironic in and of itself, but when you consider that the scheduling mess actually ended up working in favor of the Gamecocks rather than against felt it, right? That twinge that hits when you recognize irony? Or maybe that was just your stomach clenching in remembrance of our last game. That's why irony is so difficult to pin down sometimes: sometimes, with irony--especially situational irony--you just have to feel it.

Reversal of Expectations: An Odd Post on Irony on by Cherokee's Grip, Oct 19, 2012.

I want to try to quantify the different properties that comprise this feeling, this "twinge".

Now, different examples of what I am looking for will have different degrees and dimensions of this vague feeling. The strength of this feeling will vary, they may or may not be humorous. In fact, both the initial strength of impression and "humor" are simply additional properties.

The examples have values for different properties, or features, associated with the example's effect. Not only are the values for the properties subjective, but the definition of the properties themselves are as well:

  • "twinge factor": the strength of that feeling associated with the "recognition" of irony
  • First through preattentive response (such as "ha!")
  • poignancy
  • incongruity
  • recursiveness, sharp contrast, that can result in a strange (and sometimes almost uncontrollable) mental fluttering and re-review of the scenario in the example
  • contradiction
  • reversal of expectations
  • unexpectedness - there is a knowledge/background assumed of the audience that is being subverted
  • strength of preattentive/immediate response
  • "It figures"/"Sc, a la Alanis Morisette\'s \'Ironic\'
  • humor
  • emotion (although this might be captured by poignancy)
  • sadness
  • deus ex machina: the Gods are messing with you
  • cosmic karma/just desserts - the universe saw that this should happen so as to even things somehow
  • hypocrisy (this added Mar 7, 2016, after noticing how many people associate hypocrisy with irony)
The properties may be modified or change as I continue to poke at this. Not all examples necessarily have values for all of these properties.

Of course, this may be a doomed quest, destined to the fate of Schlegel, as far as J.A. Dane is concerned:

"He is trapped in his (discussion of) irony... his irony has turned on him; his (catalog of) irony has grown wild and can no longer be controlled."

J.A. Dane, p. 115, The Critical Mythology of Irony, 1991 University of Georgia Press

The latest examples from are embedded below. All ratings are on a scale of 0 to 10, and are completely subjective.