Publication details [#14261]

Colston, Herbert L. and Jennifer O'Brien. 2000. Contrast and pragmatics in figurative language: Anything understatement can do, irony can do better. Journal of Pragmatics 32 (11) : 1557–1583.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher


Although verbal irony and understatement both exploit a contrast between expected and experienced events, this contrast is stronger in verbal irony than in understatements. As such, verbal irony is perceived as funnier, more criticizing, and more expressive of a difference between expected and ensuing events than understatements, which are perceived as being more protective of the speaker than literal remarks. These findings lead the authors to conclude that theories of figurative language comprehension often undertheorize effects like contrast.