I’ve been getting lots of suggestions for posts from NPR listeners, but one of them inspired me much more than others: the usage of the word ironic. I think this is one of the most commonly misused words these days.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of American Idol, you know that Paula Abdul has an interesting way with words. She usually sloshes and sways all over the place while evaluating the contestants, making little sense. (Rumors abound that she is an alcoholic or addicted to painkillers; she has denied both these claims.)
During a show that I believe took place last year, she commented on a performance by one of her favorite contestants. Perhaps it was Elliott Yamin. (LOVE him!) She said something along the lines of, “I find it….so….ironic….that you would choose this song, because it suits you so well.”
This was the nail in the coffin for me. Granted, trying to make sense out of the ramblings of Paula Abdul is not unlike trying to decipher conversations written in leprechaun, but to me, this seemed like a culmination: there are so many people who use the word “ironic” without knowing what it actually means! And now Paula had to go and say that in front of millions of viewers, many of whom were children….
I also remember a conversation that I had with one of my college roommates. We were both English majors, we had the same advisor, and we hoped were both involved in creative writing and publishing. One day, our conversation turned to the word ironic and its meaning.
She swore up and down that it meant “unexpected.”
I strongly disagreed. I told her that I considered it to mean “unusual and contradictory,” then provided her with an example — if someone shows up to a meeting early, is that ironic?
Now, if this guy had a reputation for for always being late and if his colleagues had made plans to start the meeting ten minutes later than scheduled because of that, and, in turn, the guy actually showed up on time and the colleagues were the ones late for the meeting, then that would be ironic.
She and I are both quite headstrong, so we never resolved this argument. To be fair, she is very smart — I consider her to be one of the most intelligent people I met at Fairfield.
For the record, here is the definition of ironic from the American Heritage Dictionary:
1. Characterized by or constituting irony.
2. Given to the use of irony. See Synonyms at sarcastic.
3. Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended: madness, an ironic fate for such a clear thinker.
Here is the definition of irony:
1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal
meaning: the irony of her reply, “How nice!” when I said I had to work all
a. a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.
b.(esp. in contemporary writing) a manner
of organizing a work so as to give full expression to contradictory or complementary impulses, attitudes, etc., esp. as a means of indicating detachment from a subject, theme, or emotion.
3. Socratic irony.
4. dramatic irony.
5. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
6. the incongruity of this.
7. an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing.
8. an objectively or humorously sardonic utterance, disposition, quality, etc.
What are your thoughts on the word?
Thanks for the tip, Daniel!