Irony is one of the most misunderstood, underestimated, and abused forms of expression in the English language – and Canadian musician Alanis Morissette and her producers have a lot to answer for by confusing the matter further.
Irony is quite hard to grasp, but clearly Morissette hasn’t got a clue based on the lyrics of her popular song Ironic. None of the examples she refers to in it are ironic at all, annoying yes, but not ironic – which in itself is ironic!
Let’s look at the examples she uses, ‘It’s like rain on your wedding day’, ‘A traffic jam when you're already late’, ‘A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break’, or ‘It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife’ – no, no, no, none of these are ironic, just inconvenient occurrences.
So, venting over, what is irony then? A simple way of putting it, is that irony usually signals a difference between the appearance of things and reality, usually used in a humorous way. To add to the complexity of an already complex subject, there are also versions of irony: verbal; dramatic; and situational.
Verbal irony is similar to sarcasm but without such malicious intent, like saying, “It’s a lovely day” when you’re stuck in the middle of a blizzard, or in its most basic form, exclaiming “Oh, great” when you’ve broken or dropped something.
Dramatic irony is ironically best dramatised in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Let’s set the scene – Juliet drinks the potion to make it appear she has died so that when she reawakens she can be free to be with her forbidden lover, Romeo. But alas, Romeo, believing her to be dead when he sees her in this state, kills himself in what we would also refer to as cruel irony.
Probably the most commonly used version would be situational irony, which is best explained as an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurred, or put simply, a trivial oddity. These are most used for comic effect, like some of these headlines from last year: “'All-you-can-eat' diners banned for eating too much”; “Emoticon inventor hates 'smileys'”; “Man sues the Guinness Book of Records over 'most lawsuits' claim”; and unfortunately, “Death ends 'buried alive' record attempt”!
It’s obviously a pet peeve and something that confuses us all at times, but if you’re unsure, you can always check out www.IsItIronic.com for a rating system of what’s ironic and what’s not. And while you’re at it, Morissette’s ridiculously incorrect versions of irony have created such a maelstrom of reaction since it was released, it has been parodied, criticised, and corrected across all forms of media.
So hopefully that’s cleared up some things for you, but if after reading this article about irony you’re more confused than before, that would be ironic! What are some examples of irony that you can think of?