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Irony And Dr House English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4067 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Irony is one of the speech figures that is being used more and more every day in contemporary society. It is used when speakers want to express something that seems to be the opposite of what they actually mean. This study seeks to determine the use of irony in every day life in the contemporary society. It will deal with use of irony in one specific social aspect – TV series- and one TV series in particular Dr. House. In addition to this, the study will explore some of the sociolinguistic notions that are relevant in understanding concepts of linguistic factors of human behavior. This work seeks to determine is Dr. House being just ironic or there is something behind it. The study also tries to determine is he using irony because he is not able to express his thoughts and emotions without irony and sarcasm. The study also tries to present how irony affects people and why is its usage important to explain.

Key words: irony, to mock (mockery), sarcasm, irreverance, to be moody, bitterness, antagonism, misanthropy, cynicism, to be grumpy, rebellion, anarchist, sociopath, a curmudgeon


Irony is both a figure of speech (saying one thing and meaning another) and an attitude to existence, in which the ironic subject adopts a position of skepticism and mistrust in relation to everyday language. Dr. House MD is the TV series where the main character Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) throughout irony, sarcasm, mocking wants to gain the effect from people, wants to find out the truth. He doesn’t mock or makes fun of the medicine, he takes it seriously, but through his funny methods and his own, special and specific way of work what makes him rather a peculiar character. As irony is “a mocking, often ironic or satirical remark, usually intended to wound as well as amuse” it seems that he follows that rule to the letter. TV and shows shown on it became very important and have a great influence on the modern society. In them it is possible to find the inspiration for all sorts of researches. Throughout this paper it will be tried to determine how using irony can affect people, provoke their reaction even if they do not want to react or they think that they do not have the reaction, some particular opinion about a certain topics, specifically medical topics. In this paper it will be tried to deal with the specific use of irony in the context of television and TV shows.

Conversations reveal how irony may be one of our most powerful weapons in everyday speech.

In recent years, psychologists, linguists, and philosophers have proposed various theories to explain how people use and understand irony. These theories focus on widely different cognitive, linguistic, and social aspects of ironic language use.

It is noticeable that irony has a frequent and common definition of saying something what is contrary to what is actually meant. Irony is used in everyday life but it is understood when is talked about things that are familiar to both sides, to the speaker and more importantly to do listener because without his comprehension the remark does not makes sense. So, with irony person using it has to be careful because it can not be unfamiliar. Irony is, in a way, some kind of a criticism. If the person does not want to or does not know how to say some criticism often uses irony. The reason is maybe because it is easier make fun of some topics taken so seriously without taken it as such for real. That is similar to what happens in the show Dr. House where many of his hypothesis about patients’ illnesses are based on subtle or controversial insights. He does not believe that they are telling the truth and questions every their answer. He thinks that everybody lies and he wants to go to the bottom of it and to find out are they honest or is he right. The methods that he uses are quite unorthodox. He uses irony to explain his actions; irony will help him to find out the truth before straight-forwardness; he does not believe in people’s honesty in general.

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By basing the decryption of an ironic utterance on the recognition of the different roles in a speech-actor’s portrayal, the personality characteristics given to the portrayed character are brought very much to the forefront of explanation. So a speaker/actor who portrays a character as being an idiot, for instance, with the common acting techniques of voice tone, facial expression, nonverbal cues, etc., is very clearly revealing their negative attitude toward that character and, accordingly, the position the character is advocating. The speaker/actor could just as easily have portrayed the character in a more appealing light and is thus making his or her attitude clear if he or she has selected it from a number of possibilities. [1] 

Dr. House

This is a series that had a great success over the years, from 2008. (the series was first time shown on TVs) until the 2012. (it`s last, 8th season). It moved some boundaries about series which primary idea was medicine -in this show medicine is associated with a sort of CSI- style medical detective program in a teaching hospital, where doctors investigated symptoms of diseases, their causes and eventually finding out the solution to resolve the problem and to treat diseases. The protagonist, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a doctor who takes the most unordinary cases, the patients for which diseases there is no actual explanation. He takes them primarily to resolve the puzzle that they are actually presenting. The original idea of the show was of a team of doctors working together trying to diagnose what nobody else could diagnose. House has a team of doctors working together and found out the problem and to treat the disease.

Irony is not a single category of figurative language, but includes a variety of types, each of which is motivated by slightly different cognitive, linguistic, and social factors, and conveys somewhat different pragmatic meanings.

The effect of irony on society is a great and this TV series is a one of the examples of it. Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a “master” of irony. By his opinion, society and people are dishonest and nobody tells the truth for its own sake so he tries to fight it, to defy it by saying what small amount of people would say directly. So he makes fun of people, their lives and attitudes. He sometimes acts as he is evil. But what he actually does is by using irony as the way to make people react, by affecting their psyche to help them realize their mistakes. But irony he uses must be familiar to the other party.

A listener’s understanding of an ironic utterance depends crucially on the common ground he or she believes is shared by the ironist and the audience-their mutual beliefs, mutual knowledge, and mutual suppositions (Clark & Carlson, 1981; Clark & Marshall, 1981). [2] 

House always uses something from personal lives of his colleagues, his team members, the director of the hospital and his friends to provoke a reaction. House has unconventional medical theories and practices and what is else important are the other characters’ reactions to them, rather than on the details of the treatments.

Irony is the figure used to convey the opposite of what is said: in irony, the words are not taken in their basic literal sense. (Du Marsais, Des Tropes, chapter XIV). [3] 

Speakers may try hard or not at all to be relevant to their audience; they may succeed or fail; they still convey a presumption of relevance: that is, they convey that they have done what was necessary to produce an adequately relevant utterance. [4] 

It seems that the House is just like that. He says what he wants to say without any regard on how would feel that other side, would they be offended, mad or even fight back what seems to be actually his goal whether he showed it or not to the persons that he is talking to. It looks like he wants to help them realize their mistakes by provoking them verbally and by being ironic and sarcastic.

Verbal irony would regularly be used to diminish the criticism or condemnation brought about or intended by a speaker. [5] 

Listeners or readers who comprehend verbal irony are thus unable to ignore the literal (positive) meaning of a typical sarcastic (negative) utterance, which results in a diminishment of the overall degree of negativity expressed. [6] 

Ironical utterances communicate a certain attitude and create a certain impression in the hearer.

Calling attention to a discrepancy between what is and what should have been implies that an important function of discourse irony is to express negative attitudes, often disappointment. However, although people generally do use irony to express negative attitudes such as disappointment, negativity may not be an intrinsic property of the ironic form. There are arguments that irony can be used to accomplish a variety of communication goals. The most frequently listed goals that could be fulfilled by using irony in discourse were to emphasize a point, followed by to be humorous and being derogatory. Other goals, in order of frequency, were to express emotion, to alleviate personal/social discomfort, to provoke a reaction, to get attention, to manage the conversation, and to dissemble. These data clearly indicate that expressing a negative attitude is not a necessary property of irony. [7] 

House was wounded and because of that he has to use a cane when walks and because the excruciating pain in his leg he became addicted on Vicodin. He wants to hide because he is an invalid, wants to distance himself from others without sharing his emotions directly with anybody, when somebody asks him he avoids the answer, he is more ironic and sarcastic than usual; he lacks on any connection. Irony is his way to cope with the world.

A refinement of the theory of irony as a figure of speech has been proposed suggesting that irony does not express any other meaning but a more specific “opposite” meaning (e.g., Brown & Levinson, 1978, p. 221). [8] 

Ironical speech acts are not performatives (Amante, 1981, p. 81), they are necessarily indirect speech acts, and must be insincere; in an ironical speech act, two propositions are predicated (or one is predicated and one implied). [9] 

Haverkate (1990) indicates that “irony is the intentional expression of insincerity” (p. 104). The fact that irony does not necessarily implicate the opposite or the converse of the literal meaning is important. Schaffer (1982, p. 15) summed up the situation:

“Recognition of irony rarely comes from the words themselves […], but rather from cues in the conversational context or nonverbal communication of the speaker. The ironic implicatures resulting from such cues merely point to the possibility that the speaker’s meaning may be other than that of the literal content of the utterance; other conversational implicatures and semantic considerations can then supply an alternative interpretation. (p. 15; my emphasis)” [10] 

Often, people do not say what they mean. Irony is a widely used form of nonliteral language in which the speaker means much more than he or she says. Irony is characterized by opposition between two levels of meaning: The speaker’s literal meaning is evaluatively the (approximate) opposite of the speaker’s intended meaning (Booth, 1974; Muecke, 1969).

It may be useful for speakers to be funny when they are also being critical.

It is often assumed that irony is an especially nasty form of criticism, more insulting than a directly negative statement. Irony has been described as a way of mocking and thereby humiliating the “victim” of the irony (e.g., Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 1974). Perhaps irony is assumed to be harsher than literal language because of the contrast between what is said (positive) and what is meant (negative). This contrast may emphasize how far off the behavior is from what is expected. [11] 

Sarcastic utterances are literally positive words used to express intended negative meanings.

Sarcasm is an overtly aggressive type of irony, with clearer markers/cues and a clear target. It is difficult to define sarcasm, particularly because it is closely related to the concept of irony. The Oxford English Dictionary says that ironic utterances are generally thought to include “the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning of a sentence,” whereas sarcasm depends for its effect on “bitter, caustic, and other ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.” [12] 

In many cases, speakers actually do mean what they literally say but are still speaking sarcastically. [13] 

Sociolinguistic studies suggest that ironic talk can serve multiple communicative purposes which require different psychological mechanisms. Sarcasm, in particular, is often used to vent frustration when an individual finds some situation or object offensive or sees a group’s normative standards violated. Sarcastic comments may also be self-directed and thus affirm the speaker’s allegiance to the group and the prescribed behavioral norms. Most studies of irony generally assume that sarcasm is the most typical instance of ironic discourse. The psycholinguistic literature has traditionally studied irony as cases where speakers utter sarcastic comments with negative, critical intent. But a good deal of ironic language enables speakers to bond together through their disparagement of some other person or a speaker’s mockful teasing of the addressee.

House’s character has been described as a misanthrope, cynic, narcissist, and ill-humored.

In the series, the character’s unorthodox diagnostic approaches, radical therapeutic motives, and rationality have resulted in much conflict between him and his colleagues. House is also often portrayed as lacking sympathy for his patients and having a practice allowing him the time to solve pathological enigmas. He met his future employer and love interest Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), with whom he shared (in his words) a night where “he gave her everything she asked for.” [14] 

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House eventually finds the one thing that seems to help the pain go away: practicing medicine. Dr. House is a fascinating and an enigma, the proverbial bitter pill who is also a highly intuitive medical genius. He despises interacting with patients and prefers dealing with diseases – with medical mysteries that leave other doctors scratching their heads in confusion. [15] 

House’s character frequently shows off his cunning and biting wit and enjoys picking people apart and mocking their weaknesses. House accurately deduces people’s motives and histories from aspects of their personality, appearance, and behavior. His friend and colleague Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) says although some doctors have the “Messiah complex”-they need to “save the world”, House has the “Rubik’s complex”-he needs to “solve the puzzle”. House typically waits as long as possible before meeting his patients. When he does, he shows an unorthodox bedside manner and uses unconventional treatments. However, he impresses them with rapid and accurate diagnoses after seemingly not paying attention. This skill is demonstrated in a scene where House diagnoses an entire waiting room full of patients in little over one minute on his way out of the hospital clinic. Critics have described the character as moody, bitter, antagonistic, misanthropic, cynical, grumpy, rebel, anarchist, sociopath, and a curmudgeon. The Global Language Monitor chose the word “curmudgeon” as the best way to describe the character. [16] 

Laurie describes House as a character who refuses to “obey the usual pieties of modern life” and expects to find a rare diagnosis when he is treating his patient. As a protagonist, many aspects of his personality are the antithesis of what might be expected from a doctor. Leonard has said that Dr. Wilson is one of the few who voluntarily maintains a relationship with House, because he is free to criticize him. [17] 

House takes Vicodin every day to handle the chronic pain in his leg, and as a result has developed an addiction to the drug. This addiction makes him moody and sometimes even evil to people.

He openly and relentlessly mocks colleagues and patients who express any belief in religion, considering such beliefs as illogical.

He expresses sufficient interest in the possibility of an afterlife to electrocute himself in an effort to find out; however, he is dissatisfied with the results and denounces the possibility of an afterlife. This is also an example of House’s tendency to self-experiment and submit to risky medical procedures in the name of truth. [18] 

House enjoys pursuing the truth, and he knows we all see the world through our own lenses. He’s constantly trying to strip himself of those biases, to get a clean, objective view of things. [19] 

House criticizes social etiquette for lack of rational purpose and usefulness. [20] 

House, has a difficulty accepting the purpose of social rules, lack of concern for his physical appearance, and resistance to change; though he later reveals to House that he does not truly believe this, and that claiming this was a part of a ploy to soften Cuddy’s opinion of House. House is a strong nonconformist and has little regard for how others perceive him. Throughout the series, he displays sardonic contempt for authority figures. House shows an almost constant disregard for his own appearance, possessing permanent stubble and dressing informally in jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. He avoids wearing the standard white lab coat to avoid patients recognizing him as a doctor. [21] 

Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) states in the first episode of the first season “House doesn’t believe in pretense … so he just says what he thinks”. [22] Lisa Edelstein has said that despite his sardonic personality, House is a character who is reliant on people surrounding him. [23] 

A speaker who delivers a criticism elevates his or her own status and/or puts down the status of the person being criticized. An ironic criticism may be even more status elevating than a literal criticism because the speaker implies how the victim should have behaved in contrast to how he or she did behave. Alternatively, an ironic criticism may be less status elevating than a literal one because the ironic speaker may be perceived as joking. [24] 

Conclusion [25] 

It can be considered that ironic criticism is less aggressive than literal criticism. That could be because it is indirect, ironic criticism can be used to convey criticism in a less face-threatening way than literal criticism. A speaker can insult or criticize another off-the-record, using irony, and therefore provide the addressee with more than one possible interpretation. As a result, it is left up to the addressee to decide how to interpret the utterance, and the speaker is left free of responsibility.

It is more difficult for the addressee of an ironic remark to respond impolitely.

Many ironic remarks merely remind listeners of the attitudes and expectations that they might share with speakers.

People comfortably use various forms of irony (i.e., jocularity (or ironic banter or teasing), sarcasm, hyperbole, rhetorical questions, and understatement) to convey a wide range of both blatant and subtle interpersonal meanings.

In private conversations (where friendly irony is displayed), people react more to what is said in the ironic act, while in television discussions of controversial issues, they react more to what is meant by the (critical) ironic act.

The ancient concept of irony is that what is said is opposite of what is meant; a person says something other than what actually thinks; it is a criticism through false praise, praise through apparent criticism; every type of making fun and ridicule.

There are a certain types of irony: defensive irony, protective irony, critical irony, friendly irony, and arrogant irony. The ironic acts are perceived quite differently by addressees, depending on general social interpretations (such as friendly, helpful, or critical intentions).

Satire is generally defined as a specific formal genre in which a person speaking in the first person attacks one or more individuals, institutions, or social customs. In many cases, satire is aimed at revealing the folly in someone holding particular beliefs. Parody is closely related to satire, but more specifically engages in exaggerated mimicry of the person(s) being attacked.

Like irony, both satire and parody run the risk of being misunderstood for either being taken too seriously, or being offensive toward the person or ideas being mocked.

Irony is a form of thought as much as it is a kind of linguistic expression.


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