When did this writing mistake become so ubiquitous? Not a week goes by that I don’t witness a sports reporter, movie reviewer, or political commentator describing something coincidental or incidental as ironic.
“Rimsky-Korsakov missed most of last season with a torn ligament in his left knee but returned at the start of the playoffs. Ironically, he only played three games before injuring his other knee.”
An athlete getting two injuries is not irony; it is a matter of probability. Rimsky-Korsakov plays basketball, a sport that requires frequent jumping and turning. He was out of shape from not playing. He was favoring his left knee and working the other one too hard. His odds of injuring his right knee were, in fact, higher than ever before in this scenario. Maybe he should take up rowing instead, and get to work on destroying those rotator cuffs.
“Midway through the film, Bond ends up in bed with Ginny Tonic, only to discover she is a Uvulan spy seeking information about England’s top-secret invisible tuxedo prototype. Ironically, the same plot device was used in last year’s CIA thriller See-Through Assassin.”
There’s really nothing ironic about stealing an idea from another movie. What would be ironic is getting accused of stealing another story’s ideas when you wrote the first tale since Epic of Gilgamesh that actually didn’t steal something from a previous one.
“Senator McFlop told supporters he is opposed to half-priced Whopper day, yet, ironically, he stopped at Burger King on the way to the rally and ordered one for himself.”
Hypocrisy and irony share a few of the same letters, but little of the same meaning.
Irony comes in several forms, but, with most modern language, we use two: Snarky irony and Cool Twist irony (hey, Oxford makes these rules, not me).
Snarky irony is when someone says the opposite of what she means. For example, I might say, “So, how was the gallbladder removal?” The ironist may reply, “Fun, I can’t wait to do it again.”
The irony being that it’s not fun to have a gallbladder removed (unless I went to the wrong hospital and missed out), and one can’t have a gallbladder removed more than once. I hope.
Snarky irony is kind of witless, and it’s so similar to facetiousness that I can’t tell them apart. In short, snarky irony is for losers and NBC sitcoms.
Cool Twist irony is what happens in Twilight Zone episodes. That does not mean all twists are ironic. “It was all a dream” is not irony (it’s a cop-out). “They were ghosts the whole time” is not irony (it’s a cliché). “The butler did it” is simply a surprise. And a good one, since it’s never the butler.
A guy sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life. Then he finds out his wife cheated on him and, in a rage, murders her and her lover. He is caught in the act and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Doh!
Then there’s the great Twilight Zone episode in which Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bemis, a henpecked banker who only wants one thing in life: to read books. But he never has time between his wife nagging him to do chores and errands and his employer dumping work on him. One day he falls asleep in the bank vault and is spared when a nuclear war wipes out civilization. When he emerges into the sunlight and finds the local library is intact, he is filled with joy. Time at last to read! He gleefully lines up piles and piles of books, takes the first one from the stack, sits down… and drops his glasses, shattering them on the ground.
That’s bloody irony. Save it for special occasions, my friends and colleagues.