Friday, September 9, 2011

Irony



A month ago I was talking to a friend who is a linguist. We were discussing the cultural aspects of language, and he brought up irony. He asked me how I would explain irony to someone whose language didn’t have a term for it (i.e., it’s not part of their cultural milieu). I tried to explain it and failed. I told him that I’d have to consult my trusty M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms. (I adore that book!)

Later I realized that the best way to explain a term is by example. I’m teaching MacBeth right now and it’s rife with irony. For example, after Duncan’s murder, MacBeth wonders what will clean the blood from his hands. Lady MacBeth says “a little water.” Yet, she’ll be the one washing her hands saying, “Out damn spot” by the end.

But as good as literary examples are, real life ones are better. Yesterday, my daughter came home from her computer programming class. She said that class always gets interesting right around 5pm when the computer announces that the system will be shutting down in two minutes—right during the middle of the professor’s lecture. And it takes the professor about ten to fifteen minutes to get the whole system rebooted afterwards. It’s the third week of classes so the professor is getting very frustrated. He hasn’t been able to fix the problem. So yesterday he asked the class if they knew what was wrong. One student told him that the university computers are scheduled to reboot at 2am, and for some reason the computer system clock in the Java 2 class was set to the wrong time—2am instead of 5pm. All the prof had to do was reset the clock to the correct time. But the prof didn’t know how to do that. The student told him to right click the clock in the bottom right hand side of the screen. However, English is not the prof’s first language. And so he wasn’t able to reset the computer’s clock. A programming prof who can’t reset the computer’s clock—that, my friends, is irony. (Kind of like mathematics profs and students who can’t multiply—but that’s another post.)

I expect Ariel or someone else will have compassion on the professor and show him how to reset the computer’s clock before next class. I have to admit, the incident makes me feel much better about my computer skills, or lack there of.

7 comments:

  1. Hehehe so true. It's incredibly difficult to translate terms where one language lacks an equivalent. That's one reason why Mandarin is so difficult. The culture is so different.

    :-)

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  2. That's a great example! I haven't used irony in my writing, but I'd definitely think about it.

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  3. I've been working hard all week to get my scrapbook hoarding in some type of organization. By early afternoon yesterday it was all finished. Yeah! I just wanted to vaccuum the carpet after lunch...then reward myself by time actually working on a scrapbook.

    Then the power went off. I tried to work by candlelight, but I was afraid I'd set my scrapbook paper on fire and I couldn't really see what I was doing.

    The lights came back on at 2:06 a.m., but I really wasn't ready to start scrapbooking then :>)

    That's irony...finally get organized, then can't see what you're doing~

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  4. I've been working hard all week to get my scrapbook-hoarding in some semblance of organization. By early afternoon yesterday it was all finished. Yeah! I just wanted to vaccuum the carpet after lunch...then reward myself by actually working on a scrapbook.

    Then the power went off. My room has doors & a skylight, but I need the lights on to see good. I tried to work by candlelight, but I was afraid I'd set my scrapbook on fire and I couldn't really see what I was doing...so we went to the beach.

    The lights came back on at 2:06 a.m., but I really wasn't ready to start scrapbooking then :>)

    That's irony...finally get organized, then can't see to work on the project~

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  5. The poor professor! How awful. I do hope he fixes his problem so he won't define irony any longer!

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  6. If you think translating irony is rough, try asking "But when the clock is read using GetSystemTime does the routine interpolate within the 156001 nanosecond*100 interval?" in your second language

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  7. Yikes. Poor professor and poor class!

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