Irony

"Isn't it ironic, don't you think?" - Alanis Morissette

Often times you'll hear someone say, "Isn't that ironic?" when the fact of the matter is that it really isn't. According to a study done by the Usage Panel, 78% of the instances of the word "irony" are used improperly. Isn't that ironic? Here are some examples of occurrences that people sometimes call ironic.

  • A person bets their life savings in a roulette game and ironically wins.
  • Someone dreams of a plane crash so they travel by car, the irony is that the plane they would have taken ended up crashing.
  • A woman who used to live in L.A. moves to Boston where she meets her husband who also came from L.A., how ironic.

The interesting thing here is that none of these events are ironic.

Irony is misused so much because most people don't really know what it means. So what exactly does irony mean? In a nutshell, irony is seen when the result of something you do is the opposite of what was intended.

For example, the government decided to put "Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics" labels on music albums to prevent impressionable children from buying certain music. The result was that children became more inclined to buy the black labeled albums because of it. As you can see, in this example the action taken had opposite results and shows human folly. That is irony.

We can rectify this problem of constantly misusing irony by learning what should be said in its place. Most people, even if they don't realize it, really mean "coincidence" or "improbable" when they use irony. Let's go back to our examples.

  • A person bets their life savings in a roulette game and ironically wins.

This isn't irony, it's improbable. Sure, there isn't a very good chance of winning, but these things happen. It would be ironic if a person bet all of someone else's life savings in hopes of losing their money, but instead wins.

  • Someone dreams of a plane crash so they travel by car, the irony is that the plane they would have taken ended up crashing.

This is coincidence. Unless the person is a bona fide psychic, they were probably just nervous about flying so they had a dream about a plane crashing. The plane crashing the next day is tragic, but merely coincidental. Irony would be that a person is too afraid to fly in a dangerous plane so they drive instead, but a plane crashes into their car killing them. Depending on how morbid you are, this is also slightly humorous.

  • A woman who used to live in L.A. moves to Boston where she meets her husband who also came from L.A., how ironic.

This is also coincidence. To be ironic, it would have to be more like, a woman moves out of a small town in order to marry a big city man and when she gets to the city she falls in love with a man who grew up in a small town.

I hope this helps you to be able to better identify the correct use of irony so you won't be one of those silly 78%. Don't you feel smart? Of course, I'm mostly paraphrasing the use of irony. It's even more complicated than what is seen here, for more details see the definition of irony.