For nuances of usage, see humor (n.). In early use often ironia. Figurative use for "condition opposite to what might be expected; contradictory circumstances; apparent mockery of natural or expected consequences" is from 1640s, sometimes distinguished as irony of fate or irony of circumstances. Related: Ironist. A verb ironize "speak ironically" is recorded from c. 1600.
1580s, "of or pertaining to acted drama," from Late Latin dramaticus, from Greek dramatikos "pertaining to plays," from drama (genitive dramatos; see drama). Meaning "full of action and striking display, characterized by force and animation in action or expression, fit for a drama" is from 1725. Dramatic irony, "irony inherent in a drama and understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play," is recorded from 1907. Related: Dramatical; dramatically.
1856, from phrase to speak with one's tongue in one's cheek "to speak insincerely" (1748), suggestive of sly irony or humorous insincerity, perhaps a stage trick to convey irony to the audience.
Hem! Pray, Sir, said he to the Bard, after thrusting his Tongue into a Corner of his Cheek, and rolling his Eyes at Miss Willis, (Tricks which he had caught by endeavouring to take off a celebrated Comedian) were these fine Tragedies of yours ever acted? [anonymous, "Emily, or the History of a Natural Daughter," 1761]
This arietta, however, she no sooner began to perform, than he and the justice fell asleep ; but the moment she ceased playing, the knight waked snorting, and exclaimed,—'O cara! what d'ye think, gentlemen? Will you talk any more of your Pargolesi and your Corelli ?'—At the same time, he thrust his tongue in one cheek, and leered with one eye at the doctor and me, who sat on his left hand—He concluded the pantomime with a loud laugh, which he could command at all times extempore. [Smollett, "The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker," 1771]
mid-14c., "mockery, scorning, derision;" late 14c., "act of deception; deceptive appearance, apparition; delusion of the mind," from Old French illusion "a mocking, deceit, deception" (12c.), from Latin illusionem (nominative illusio) "a mocking, jesting, jeering; irony," from past-participle stem of illudere "mock at," literally "to play with," from assimilated form of in- "at, upon" (from PIE root *en "in") + ludere "to play" (see ludicrous). Sense of "deceptive appearance" first developed in Church Latin. Related: Illusioned "full of illusions" (1920).
c. 1500, "a literary work (originally in verse) intended to ridicule prevailing vice or folly by scornful or contemptuous expression," from French satire (14c.) and directly from Latin satira "satire; poetic medley," earlier satura, in lanx satura "mixed dish, dish filled with various kinds of fruit," literally "full dish," from fem. of satur "sated" (from PIE root *sa- "to satisfy").
The word acquired its literary sense, in Latin, in reference to a collection of poems in various meters on a variety of subjects by the late republican poet Ennius. The little that survives of his verse does not now seem particularly satiric, but in classical Latin the word was used especially of a poem which assailed various vices one after another.
In modern general use, "a denouncing or deriding speech or writing full of sarcasm, ridicule, irony, etc." (all of which can express satire). The broader meaning "fact or circumstance that makes someone or something look ridiculous" is by 1690s.
Satire, n. An obsolete kind of literary composition in which the vices and follies of the author's enemies were expounded with imperfect tenderness. In this country satire never had more than a sickly and uncertain existence, for the soul of it is wit, wherein we are dolefully deficient, the humor that we mistake for it, like all humor, being tolerant and sympathetic. Moreover, although Americans are 'endowed by their Creator' with abundant vice and folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities, wherefore the satirist is popularly regarded as a sour-spirited knave, and his every victim's outcry for codefendants evokes a national assent. [Ambrose Bierce, "Devil's Dictionary," 1911]
Proper satire is distinguished, by the generality of the reflections, from a lampoon which is aimed against a particular person, but they are too frequently confounded. [Johnson]
[I]n whatever department of human expression, wherever there is objective truth there is satire [Wyndham Lewis, "Rude Assignment," 1950]
mid-14c., "fluid or juice of an animal or plant," from Old North French humour "liquid, dampness; (medical) humor" (Old French humor, umor; Modern French humeur), from Latin umor "body fluid" (also humor, by false association with humus "earth"); related to umere "be wet, moist," and to uvescere "become wet" (see humid).
In old medicine, "any of the four body fluids" (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black bile).
The human body had four humors—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—which, in turn, were associated with particular organs. Blood came from the heart, phlegm from the brain, yellow bile from the liver, and black bile from the spleen. Galen and Avicenna attributed certain elemental qualities to each humor. Blood was hot and moist, like air; phlegm was cold and moist, like water; yellow bile was hot and dry, like fire; and black bile was cold and dry, like earth. In effect, the human body was a microcosm of the larger world. [Robert S. Gottfried, "The Black Death," 1983]
Their relative proportions were thought to determine physical condition and state of mind. This gave humor an extended sense of "mood, temporary state of mind" (recorded from 1520s); the sense of "amusing quality, funniness, jocular turn of mind" is first recorded 1680s, probably via sense of "whim, caprice" as determined by state of mind (1560s), which also produced the verb sense of "indulge (someone's) fancy or disposition." Modern French has them as doublets: humeur "disposition, mood, whim;" humour "humor." "The pronunciation of the initial h is only of recent date, and is sometimes omitted ..." [OED].
For aid in distinguishing the various devices that tend to be grouped under "humor," this guide, from Henry W. Fowler ["Modern English Usage," 1926] may be of use:
HUMOR: motive/aim: discovery; province: human nature; method/means: observation; audience: the sympathetic
WIT: motive/aim: throwing light; province: words & ideas; method/means: surprise; audience: the intelligent
SATIRE: motive/aim: amendment; province: morals & manners; method/means: accentuation; audience: the self-satisfied
SARCASM: motive/aim: inflicting pain; province: faults & foibles; method/means: inversion; audience: victim & bystander
INVECTIVE: motive/aim: discredit; province: misconduct; method/means: direct statement; audience: the public
IRONY: motive/aim: exclusiveness; province: statement of facts; method/means: mystification; audience: an inner circle
CYNICISM: motive/aim: self-justification; province: morals; method/means: exposure of nakedness; audience: the respectable
SARDONIC: motive/aim: self-relief; province: adversity; method/means: pessimism; audience: the self