I have read about irony on the internet but just confused about this particular example: if someone criticizes or accuses someone of something which they are doing themselves can we say "That's ironic"?

Like pot calling the kettle black, but is that also "ironic"? I just want to avoid using "hypocrite" because take the example in detail: we were good friends and we got into a little argument and you criticize me for something which you yourself do. To which I would be hesitant to say "That's hypocritical of you" and instead would like to go for something less serious like "That's ironic". But, I don't know if that will fit there correctly? What do you think?


If someone is being hypocritical, that situation may be perceived as 'ironic' by a listener who is aware of the hypocrisy, but the hypocrite is not 'being ironical' in a rhetorical sense. In verbal irony a speaker knowingly says something meaning it to contrast, in the mind of the listener, with the literal meaning of what he or she says. In conscious hypocrisy a speaker says something that he or she intends to be understood as true or sincere, when he or she is aware that the true situation is at odds with this. In unconscious hypocrisy a speaker says something that he or she intends to be understood as true or sincere, but is not aware that the true situation is at odds with this.

Put briefly, both irony and hypocrisy pretend, the first to reveal, the second to conceal.

To answer your direct question, if you tell your friend that it is ironic that he or she said something, and they ask why, you are still faced with having to bring up, implicitly or explicitly, the notion of hypocrisy.

An interesting blog I found emphasises that irony involves the juxtaposition of opposites, and "ironic" should not be used to mean merely "interesting", "funny", etc, and gives a number of examples, including this example of how hypocrisy might, as a borderline case, be ironic:

"I find it ironic that you pointed out grammar mistakes in my post but you ended up making grammar mistakes yourself as well."

Also a border case. Technically speaking there are no opposites being juxtaposed here. Person A lectures person B about grammar, and makes grammatical mistakes himself as well. No opposites happening here, so no irony. "Hypocrisy" might be a better word in this case.

On the other hand, some juxtaposition can be seen here in another sense. If someone lectures someone else about grammar, one could assume that he should know what he's talking about, but since he made grammatical mistakes himself, it's clear that he is not as knowledgeable as he pretends. Thus there's a juxtaposition between what this person pretends to be and what he actually is. That could be seen as ironic.

Abuse of irony/ironic

  • +1 well answered. Jan 27 '19 at 11:29

Calling your friend a hypocrite (or even using the term hypocrisy) is an aggressive act, a blame, that would likely heat the debate.

Noting the irony of the situation is a much milder act. You are suggesting a way out; your friend may not have been conscious of his mistake.

There is a suitable idiom (perhaps not well known) for this situation: Physician, heal thyself or if you prefer Latin "cura te ipsum".

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