The paper develops a speech act-based model of verbal irony. It argues, first, that ironic utterances are speech actions performed as conforming to a socially accepted procedure and, second, that they are best understood as so-called etiolated uses of language.
The paper is organized into four parts. The first one elaborates on Austin's doctrine of the etiolations of language and distinguishes between the normal or serious mode of communication and its etiolated mode. The second part discusses the dominant approaches to verbal irony and argues that the irony-as-a-trope theories can be viewed as attempts to describe ironic utterances as cases of normal speech, whereas the metalinguistic theories seem to treat them as etiolated uses of language. The third part proposes a set of felicity conditions for ironic acts and puts forth a hypothesis that echo and overt pretence are complementary techniques of linguistic etiolation used for ironizing. The fourth part uses the proposed model to discuss the social dimension of ironizing and argues that utterances intended as acts of ironizing may trigger the accommodating process of context-repair. The take-home message is that ironic utterances are essentially social actions: acts performed by invoking a socially accepted procedure.