I must not, however, omit to remind you that this term in modern phraseology has fallen very far below its primary meaning, and is often so taken as to designate nothing more than a mere playful mockery. In its original Socratic sense, however, such as it is found in the whole series of the thought and the internal structure of Plato's dialogues, where it is developed to its fullest measure and proportion, irony signifies nothing else than this amazement of the thinking spirit at itself, which so often dissolves in a light, gentle laugh. And this light laugh again oftentimes beneath its cheerful surface conceals and involves a deeper and profounder sense, another and a higher significance, even the most exalted seriousness.
Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophy of Life and Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr. p. 390.