Most of you have heard the 1990’s song “Ironic,” by Alanis Morissette. It’s on my playlist. There’s something catchy about the lyrics, and the melody is relaxing. What’s ironic, however, is that none of the scenarios about which Morissette sings are actually examples of irony. They’re just sad or unfortunate events.
I should note that among literary experts–some with which I have recently spoken–there is a difference of opinion regarding the premise of this article. If you are not in agreement, please just accept the following as my opinion. Think of this as one of those “choose your adventure” posts where you proceed one of two ways–in agreement with me or not.
Let’s get back on track…
What led this topic to take flight for me was literally an experience I had on an airplane. Actually, multiple experiences. Not ironic, but simply unfortunate, is the fact that four of the last five times I’ve flown, the song started playing just as the plane travelled down the runway to take off. (If you’re not familiar with the song, the first scenario is about an old man who was afraid to fly, but eventually does and the plane crashes.) I’ve been told I should take it off my playlist, but there’s something about karma, bad luck or perhaps irony that prevents me from doing so.
A few years ago, I participated in the “Shadow a Student Challenge.” It was a great experience and reminded me what it was like being at the receiving end of instruction. The student I shadowed was a middle schooler, which was–not ironic–a coincidence because as a former middle school principal, I have often joked about having spent 8 years in middle school. What was ironic was the fact that during the English class I attended with my student, the teacher used Morissette’s song “Ironic” to teach irony. That’s it–teaching irony using a song that isn’t about irony is ironic. Unless you still disagree.
According to the online dictionary, irony is “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” It’s a catchy literary technique and as a result very popular. Here are some examples:
- A dairy farmer develops a milk allergy
- A judge gets sentenced
- A ski jumper has a fear of heights (and speeds)
- A fire station burns down
- A marriage counselor files for divorce
- A police station gets robbed
- A social media post complaining about social media
- A teacher uses the song “Ironic” to teach about irony…
Ironic is a captivating word, and it feels smart using it. That probably explains why so many people misuse it. However, since language is so integrally connected to our society and culture, it is critical that we get it right. Therefore, let us all take care to use irony correctly. Or, let’s just say what we mean.