Publication details [#14720]

Colston, Herbert L. and Jennifer O'Brien. 2000. Contrast of Kind Versus Contrast of Magnitude: The Pragmatic Accomplishments of Irony and Hyperbole. Discourse Processes 30 (2) : 179–199.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Lawrence Erlbaum


Verbal irony (e.g., "This is wonderful") and hyperbole (e.g., "This is the worst luck ever") perform pragmatic functions because they create contrasts between expected and ensuing events. Verbal irony uses contrasts of kind because positive comments are made about negative situations. Hyperbole uses contrasts of magnitude because very negative comments are made about moderately negative situations. This study assessed whether this difference enables prediction of the pragmatic accomplishments of the tropes. Experiment 1 tested how much verbal irony, hyperbole, and literal comments perform condemnation, humor, and speaker protection. Results indicated that verbal irony performs these functions more than hyperbole and liter-al comments, with no difference between the latter types. Experiment 2 evaluated whether gradations within contrasts of kind affect the extent of pragmatic function accomplishment. Strong verbal irony was more condemning, humorous, and speaker- protecting than was weak verbal irony. Implications of these results for verbal irony comprehension and interpretation theories are considered.