28 May 2009

No, It Isn't Ironic

I'm going to step away from writing to the Church. At least for one blog. (Notice i didn't say writing a Christian blog; that's a hint at what i'll tackle next week.)

Instead, i'm going to take on a word that many people use, but a select few know it well enough to use it correctly. Dave Eggers even goes to town on this word, saying how much he hates it because of its rampant disuse, and i have to agree with him, mostly. I don't hate the word, but it does grate me that it's so misused and overused.

The word in question is 'ironic.'

Irony is a very fickle thing. It doesn't pop its head up all that often, and when it does, it's a subtle thing. The purpose of irony is to show two things out of sync in such a way that it is funny. That is to say, one thing will come to pass in a way that is entirely contrary to how it should. A good example is one i ran into with my girlfriend, Briana. I was writing her a letter, and in the process i misspelled the word 'perfect.'

That's not ironic. What was ironic was that it was the only word in the letter than i messed up and had to scratch out and rewrite.

If that had happened to any other word, say, 'misspelled,' it would not have been ironic. Even if it was a misspelled 'misspelled;' that would have just been appropriate, but never ironic.

Let's take a look at Alanis Morissette's 'Isn't It Ironic.' It's an assortment of the many misuses of the word.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day (That's just bad timing.)
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay (Gross, but not ironic.)
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late (Perfect example of bad timing, but not ironic.)
And isn't it ironic... don't you think

It's like rain on your wedding day (Bad Luck)
It's a free ride when you've already paid (Close, but not quite)
It's the good advice that you just didn't take (Poor choice, not ironic)
Who would've thought... it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well isn't this nice..." (Not ironic. Just bad luck.)
And isn't it ironic... don't you think



A traffic jam when you're already late (More bad luck)
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break (Just a poor choice of location)
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife (This is the closest we get, but still not there)
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife (Unfortunate, but unfortunately not ironic)
And isn't it ironic...don't you think
A little too ironic...and, yeah, I really do think...

It may sound like i'm whining over semantics, but what it comes down to is the fact that the word 'irony' has a very specific meaning. When it is not used for that meaning, when it is tossed around and treated with disrespect, it grows weak. Irony is one of the deep humors, one of those things that when it appears can be both poignant and laughable. When we call something else by the name of Irony, it taints Irony's good name.

Help me bring back irony's usefulness by refusing to use it unless you know for certain it truly is ironic. Besides, you never know when there will be a Dave Eggers in the crowd who will tear you to pieces for using it wrong. Ahem, i mean, using it incorrectly.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg

    You'll love this. Exactly what you're talking about.

    I know I'm as guilty as everyone for my misuse of the word ironic.

  2. that comedian is hilarious! have you seen that before mike? dang i liked that soong before...!

  3. Then I guess it's not ironic that the last word in your post not only was "wrong", but was the wrong word. "Wrong" is an adjective, and you needed an adverb, perhaps "incorrectly", to accompany the verb "using" that you used.

    All in fun of course!
    Great post.