Metaphor, irony and sarcasm in public discourse

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In public political discourse, figurative expressions used by one participant are often followed up and ‘countered’ by other participants through ironical and/or sarcastic allusions or quotations, which are aimed at denouncing the preceding version and/or deriving a new, contrarian conclusion from it. What is the relationship between the figurative template expression and its ironical or sarcastic variants? Using data from a corpus documenting 25 years of debate in Britain about the nation’s place at the heart of Europe, this paper investigates the interplay of metaphor, irony and sarcasm in public discourse. We show that the ‘discourse career’ of this metaphorical slogan bifurcates into two strands, i.e. an affirmative, optimistic use vs deriding and ridiculing uses that depict the heart of Europe as diseased, dead, non-existent or rotten. It is argued that discourse participants need to retain the optimistic template version as a reference point in discourse memory to achieve the intended ironical and/or sarcastic effects, and that the latter are essential to keep the metaphoricity of the slogan ‘alive’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date18 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • Discourse history
  • Echoic utterance
  • Follow-up
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Metarepresentation
  • Quotation
  • Sarcasm

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