Verbal Irony

At our LST Research miniConference on 28th March, Margaret Sim (of SIL) led us in looking at irony in the Corinthian Correspondence., proposing a definition that verbal irony in epistles are when writers make statements with which they do not in fact agree. Personally, I think that definition is too broad… I think it’s not irony unless the disagreement is implied rather than stated — if writers explicitly disagree with a statement of an opponent, that’s just disagreement, not irony. There almost needs to be ambiguity about it — a temporary suspension of clarity — for it to be truly ironic.

But there are a couple of things I’d never really considered about verbal irony before:

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Lyrics Backwards

A character in an Elmore Leonard novel I’m reading just said this:

You know what happens when you play a country tune backwards?

You get your girl and your truck back,
you’re not drunk anymore
and your hound dog comes back to life.

“The Love of Free”

For some time, I’ve been thinking about writing an article to be called “The Love of Free is the Root of All Evil“… how in our society even people who aren’t obsessed with wealth are obsessed with ‘free,’ such as free on-line services. But, of course, ‘free’ things aren’t really without cost. I would go on to look at some of the insidious nature of using the “client” as the product.

It was interesting, though, to see a couple of contrasting web articles a few days ago. One is called “I am condemning free on principle, so should you.” It’s by Ben Brooks who argues that an advertising model is good but a free-for-now model is bad. His thinking is purely business: “Free is not only a bad business model, but it is short-sighted and short-lived. No service can remain free indefinitely….”

The second was called “Why ‘ReadItLater/Pocket’ went free.” In it author/programmer Nate Weiner makes his case for switching to the sort of model that Ben Brooks condemns. Customers can see immediate value in some products, he explains. And for such products, it makes sense to have the cost come at the beginning. For other products, such as Evernote or Dropbox, the value only becomes apparent after the customer begins to use the product. Such products, he contends, work best with a different revenue strategy.

I see good points in both articles, although I’m coming at it from another perspective entirely. I dislike the urge in me to get something from someone else for nothing. And I hate the way that some organizations are using that urge in people to get them to give up things without realizing it.

The Gruesome Death(s) of Judas

Both Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:15-19 record grizzly details about what became of Judas after his betrayal of Jesus. But the details are very different. In Matthew, Judas abandons the money he received at the Temple; in Acts, he uses the money to buy some property. In Matthew, he then went away somewhere and hanged himself; in Acts, he seems to have fallen in such a way that his body burst open. Both stories mention a place called the “Field of Blood,” but they have different explanations for how the field received that name.

The stories are very different — different enough that many skeptics point to Judas’s death as one of the greatest and most obvious of biblical contradictions.

But there are two facets of the story in particular that tell me, working as a historian, there is some common story underneath these tellings of it.

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Corporate and Personal

The play Godspell is a two-act musical by John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz and based loosely on the Gospel of Matthew. It’s back on Broadway at the moment and also our students here at LST did a great job of an amateur production here in London.

I first saw it with in New York with my youthgroup when I was a teenager. When I saw it again a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder how much it had influenced my reading of the gospels, from the smiling, story-telling, encouraging comic character of Jesus to his early (non-NTWright) mission statement song:

“When wilt thou save the people?
Oh God of mercy, when?

The people, Lord, the people
not thrones, not crowns, but men.”

If Smoking Were Free, Would You Quit?

Sean Bonner has left Facebook. He’s written movingly about why he left.

“I consider what my actions and choices say…. Ethics are important. Convictions mean something…. It’s not about changing the world, or even changing anyone else’s mind, it’s about being comfortable with my own choices….

“Facebook has shown no respect for its users’ privacy. The site notoriously makes it difficult to understand who you are sharing what with, and has been known to reset defaults without notifying users. Defaults which share everything. Facebook tracks your usage of the web and knows pretty much everything else about your life…. The list goes on and on.

“… Usage is implied consent. Usage is passive support.

“I don’t consent to this and I can’t support it. Facebook is bad for the web and it’s bad for people. I can’t keep ignoring that.”

Read the whole entry on Sean’s blog.