Publication details [#62376]

Dynel, Marta. 2017. Academics vs. American scriptwriters vs. academics: A battle over the etic and emic “sarcasm” and “irony” labels. Language & Communication 55 : 69–87.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher


The essential aim of this article is to tease out the concepts indicated by the etic and emic labels “irony” and “sarcasm” (i.e. as they are regarded by linguists, and lay language users, here, primarily of American English). Several species of irony are clarified, most importantly the rhetorical figure and situational irony. The author critically explores several rivalling academic (etic) approaches, some inspired by emic use, and the prickly link between the two focal notions, that is sarcasm and the rhetorical figure of irony. In the light of the divergent origin of the two terms “irony” and “sarcasm” (originally operating as emic labels) and the original applications of the two linguistic tools they indicate, the viewpoint defended here is that sarcasm and irony ought to be regarded as diverse phenomena, which may co-occur, producing “sarcastic irony”. The empirical inquiry conducted on the basis of transcripts of the discourse of the American television series “House” adduces evidence that generally confirms the prior findings on the focal emic (meta)pragmatic labels, which are partly not compatible with the preferred etic labels: in emic usage, “sarcasm” typically points out the presence of the stylistic figure, whereas “irony” is usually reserved for situational irony. Interestingly, in the discourse of the television series, the “irony” label tends to be used creatively for humorous aims.