Make Your Editor Cry: Irony vs. Coincidence/ Inconvenience/ Unfortunate Event

Make Your Editor Cry: Irony vs. Coincidence/ Inconvenience/ Unfortunate Event

Perhaps ironically, Alanis Morissette’s song entitled “Isn’t it Ironic?” has little to do with irony. Irony has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Irony requires an opposing meaning between what’s said and what’s intended, not something inconvenient or unexpected—unless those inconvenient/unexpected occurrences represent reversals of course.

Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means the opposite. Say I catch up to my son deeply involved in a video game and neglecting his school work. I might employ verbal irony by saying, “Once you’re done with your very important work there, let’s take some time out for recreation in the form of some math problems.”

Correct examples:

The cake is as soft as concrete.
Isn’t it as pleasant as a root canal?

O. Henry was a master of situational irony. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. In “The Gift of the Magi,” Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and his wife sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person no longer has. That is true situational irony.

Something that seems contradictory but may be true, a paradox, is not an irony. It’s a curiosity. Likewise, a bad or sad turn of events like, say, “rain on your wedding day” isn’t an irony. That’s just coincidence, or inconvenience, or an unfortunate state of affairs.

Unless you were marrying Ra, the Egyptian sun god. In that case, “rain on your wedding day” would represent irony.

If you meet the man of your dreams it might be a dream come true. Then when you meet his beautiful wife, it’s probably a bummer. What it is not is ironic. However, meeting the man of your dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife… who also just so happens to be the therapist you recently hired in hopes of improving your relationships with the opposite sex. That represents something ironic.

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