Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic Sometimes

In Airplane II, the greatest movie ever made and co-starring one of the greatest actors of all time – William Shatner, Commander Buck Murdock quips: “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

Makes ya think, right?

Anyway, my son has recently picked up on the word ironic and, like most Americans, seems to think the word refers to unfortunate situations. This is probably due to the influence of Alanis Morissette who probably wonders when idiots like me are finally going to let “Ironic” go. Seriously, it’s been twenty years now.

Contender for 2016 Irony Density award.

Contender for 2016 Irony Density award.

The problem is one of definition. According to Google (who knows all and shares all), irony is defined thusly (bonus for all you writers out there: synonyms!):



The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
  1. ““Don’t go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony”
    synonyms: sarcasm, causticity, cynicism, mockery, satire, sardonicism

    “that note of irony in her voice”
    • a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
      plural noun: ironies
      “the irony is that I thought he could help me”
      synonyms: paradox, incongruity, incongruousness

      “the irony of the situation”
    • a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.
      noun: dramatic irony

An excellent example of irony would be the fact that I pulled this definition straight off a Google search and am writing this in Chrome. Google’s own spell checker thinks sardonicism is spelled wrong (it’s not, I Googled it).

According to Merriam-Webster, a simple definition of irony is this:

  • : the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny

  • : a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected

Most people are not going to use the classical Greek tragedy version of irony, which leaves us, non-ironically enough, with a simple definition: “You get the opposite of what you expected. Hilarity ensues.”. Kind of like right now, when you expected a serious discussion of irony and got this blog post instead.

Key points:

  • Opposite
  • Humor
  • Strangeness

If a statement meets those criteria, it can probably be considered ironic. Does “Like raaaaaaiiiiinnnnn on your wedding day” meet the criteria? I would imagine, unless you’re a goth, rain on your wedding day would be the opposite of what you’d expect, but from the point of view of the wedding party, it’s hardly funny. Even if it was goths, they wouldn’t find it funny because they usually have no sense of humor. From the perspective of an outsider, especially one that doesn’t really like you, rain on your wedding day might qualify as ironic because it’s the exact opposite what was expected and it’s funny as hell when it happens to someone else. It’s like Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) said in True Lies:

“I mean, if it was just some idiot and not you, you’d be laughing your ass off.”

Next time you want to call something ironic, make sure it meets the criteria: opposite, funny or strange. If it doesn’t, it might just be unfortunate. Or funny.

Which would be kind of ironic.

As usual, The Oatmeal hits the nail on the head

5 thoughts on “Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic Sometimes

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