Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Going back to the routine of posts based on stuff I read- here is something I read today: Why some people might be bad at understanding irony.

If this were an SOP, I would have started with "I have always been fascinated by Irony (and sarcasm)", but since it is not... oh wait, I just did. Anyway, let's just say that unlike the hyperbole, irony is my device of choice. Except that sometimes people don't get it. I remember one time in high school when I had to write a goodbye note to someone I particularly despised (I believe the feeling was mutual, but given the way we were all smiles on the surface, it is hard to tell..). I filled the note with cloyingly sweet compliments in the hope that anyone who read it would know that I really meant the opposite. To me, it was obvious that I couldn't have meant it at all , especially because I use to be much more parsimonious with compliments then, and I was very proud of my handiwork. To my disappointment, only about 2 people who read the note really got it! (I don't regret that anymore. Sometimes it is safer not to have people understand the exact meaning of your words, but I digress. )

Of course, later in life I realized that the best way to combat sarcasm (which is closely related) is to pretend not to understand it.* Unfortunately that knowledge is of no use to me because I simply cannot not get sarcasm/irony - it is one of those things that is hard to 'un-see' once you see it.

Anyway, it turns out that a good number of people don't get irony because it is more complicated than regular speech. I feel this should have been obvious if I ever gave it a little thought- understanding irony requires the brain to perform the additional step of noticing that the literal meaning of the sentence uttered is in fact untrue (while regular speech requires you only to understand what is being uttered). Obviously, this means that people with sociopsychological problems would find it harder to understand it.

The amazing thing about the link I read is that it actually shows how some ironic statements are better understood than others. Basically, some ironic statements are used so often that the brain processes them just like it processes regular sentences i.e. at the same speed. I find that kind of optimization in a system amazing, really!

Anyway, that brings me to the sentence I really began this post for (I should warn you that it is not great, just something too tempting for me to let go without posting :P )- It's ironic that a statement meant to be ironic is still processed like a regular statement, even when you know it is ironic! It almost defeats the purpose of making the sentence ironic.

Thankfully, there are enough new ironic sentences you could make that the brain hasn't had a chance to learn yet.. So there is still hope, folks! :P
*By the way, I am sure there is a comic strip about not-understanding-sarcasm being the best way to handle it, but I am not quite able to find the strip :(

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