||Verbal irony has been a topic of study for several decades and conclusive answers to what it is and how language users correctly understand each other’s ironic expressions are difficult to provide. Saying the opposite of what you actually mean does not seem the most effective way of communicating at first sight, but it has proven to be used over and over again without much misunderstanding. Several theories have been proposed in the past few decades that try to explain the concept of verbal irony (among others Grice 1975; Wilson & Sperber 1992; Giora 1997; Tobin & Israel 2012). Most theories on verbal irony share the idea that irony is best defined as an utterance with a literal evaluation that is implicitly opposite to its intended evaluation (Burgers & Van Mulken 2013: 184).
According to Giora and others (see for example Giora, Drucker & Fein 2014), constructions (form-meaning pairs) can even be interpreted ironically by default, when the interpretation that springs to mind first is the ironic interpretation, whether presented in isolation or in a context biasing towards that ironic interpretation. This claim is based solely on experimental research with constructed examples (among others Giora et al. 2015; Giora, Givoni & Fein 2015; Giora et al. 2018). However, to support the claim of default ironic interpretation actual language data should be involved, but such corpus studies on ironic constructions are rare. This study builds on two previous studies investigating Dutch ironic constructions on Twitter (Walles 2016; Stevens 2018), and it extends the scope to ironic constructions in English. By comparing three corpora each containing 2,000 tweets with one of the three hashtags #irony, #not, and #sarcasm with a corpus containing 15,000 general English tweets, 30 words and 22 phrases appeared to occur significantly more often in the ironic tweets. These words and phrases were used to compile a new corpus, containing one hundred tweets for each word or phrase. An analysis of the tweets showed that only four were used ironically significantly more often, namely 'classy', 'I’m shocked', 'what a surprise', and 'yeah right'.
Exploring the ironic meaning of these four constructions from a constructionist point of view is fruitful, since their ironic meaning can be better understood as these constructions are considered as one unit to which the ironic meaning is assigned. These constructions underwent subjectification: its ironic evaluation has become part of the conventional meaning of the construction and the usage of the construction is expanded to a wider range of communicative contexts in which it conveys an ironic attitude (Verhagen 2000). This gradual conventionalization of the ironic evaluation explains why certain constructions are used more frequently with an ironic intent than others: those constructions have progressed further in the conventionalization process and the ironic meaning has become more closely attached to the construction (Claridge 2011). Nevertheless, the four ironic constructions in the Twitter corpus could not be classified as default ironic constructions, as there are still cases in which they are used literally. The notion of default ironic interpretation is problematic, as the analysis of actual language data do not support the view that one particular construction is always and only used ironically.