The Definition of Irony

I was having a beer at a local pub and a nearby table of fellow EFL teachers were discussing the definition of ‘irony’. Given, it is a tricky word with a bunch of dry definitions that in layman’s terms don’t really help much. What I did learn though from this particular conversation/drunken argument was that irony is apparently coincidence, sarcasm or bad luck (and also that the EFL industry isn’t exactly understocked with laypeople).

This is not what I do for a living…

Depending on who you ask, there are five types of irony (three ancient forms and two modern), which are: Socratic, Dramatic or tragic, Linguistic, Structural and Romantic.

‘A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory’ simply states: Irony “eludes definition” and “this elusiveness is one of the main reasons why it is a source of so much fascinated inquiry and speculation”.

All I know is that irony is often confused with sarcasm, coincidence or just simple bad luck. I personally think for example (though I could be wrong), that the fact that a person with a fear of long words might have to explain that they suffer from Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, is ironic (and really fucked up).

So… why is this word so difficult to grasp (irony, not Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia)? I blame Alanis Morrisette.

It’s her fault…

If we take a quick look at the chorus of her 1995 hit song ‘Ironic’ (please bear with me, ‘cause I have a question)…

It’s like rain on your wedding day (that’s not ironic, that’s just bad fucking luck).

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid (situational ignorance and/or bad timing).

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take (poor judgement).

Who would’ve thought… it figures (buggered if I know… what figures?)

So… here’s the question I’ve pondered sporadically since 1995 (usually whenever I hear an Alanis Morrisette song).

Did Alanis write that stuff because she actually had no idea what the hell she was talking about, or… was she being amazingly witty and clever by naming a song containing little if any irony ‘Ironic’?

Either way, come to think of it, that’s pretty ironic.


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