MiR 046 Shorts – Isn’t it Ironic?


Welcome to the Mark in Russia podcast network, episode #46, and I’m your host, Mark. This episode is part of my series of “Shorts” and by this I mean approximately 5 minute long podcasts which are aimed at explaining a Quick Grammar Tip.

You should go to the website, http://www.markinrussia.com and look at the show notes and vocabulary. You’ll get more out of the lesson if you are able to follow it in writing.

Today’s Quick Grammar Tip concerns the use of the terms “Irony, Ironic, Ironical” These are some of the most misused terms in English, and rightfully so, because in my humble opinion, they are pretty difficult to understand correctly.

You’ll have to excuse me for a moment as a beat a dead horse in order to illustrate a point. In 1996 a Canadian singer named Alanis Morrisette released an album called “Jagged Little Pill”, which contained a song destined to be a number 1  hit called “Ironic”. I’d like to play a little bit from this song for you. I’m not the first to use this song to talk about the word irony, but it is a good example.

An old man turned ninety-eight

He won the lottery and died the next day

It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay

It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late

And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think

 

It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought… it figures

 

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly

He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye

He waited his whole damn life to take that flight

And as the plane crashed down he thought

“Well isn’t this nice…”

And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think

 

It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought… it figures

 

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right

And life has a funny way of helping you out when

You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up

In your face

 

A traffic jam when you’re already late

A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break

It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife

It’s meeting the man of my dreams

And then meeting his beautiful wife

And isn’t it ironic…don’t you think

A little too ironic…and, yeah, I really do think…

 

It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought… it figures

 

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out

Helping you o

 

Almost every situation described by Alanis in this song is not an example of irony. The possible exception is the story about the man who was afraid of flying. The part within this story as the plane is crashing and he says, “well, isn’t this great” is irony.

There are different types of irony, but let’s first just get a general idea of the meaning.

a. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.

b. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.

c. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect.

a. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

OK now, going back to the song, what Alanis is usually talking about when she describes something as ironic, is merely shit luck. I mean, there is nothing ironic about somebody who is 98 winning the lottery, and since the person is 98, we don’t expect that winning the lottery will now help him to live to be 150 years old, so it isn’t ironic when he dies the next day. It’s just shit luck, that’s all. It would be ironic if the story were different, let’s say for example the old man bought lottery tickets every week for the past 50 years, knowing that if he won, he would enjoy a happy and long retirement.

People were pretty hard on poor Alanis after she released this song. An Irish comedian named Ed Byrne performed a skit in which he jokingly attacked the song for its lack of ironies: “The only ironic thing about that song is it’s called ‘Ironic’ and it’s written by a woman who doesn’t know what irony is. That’s quite ironic.

That’s funny.

The song, ‘Ironic’ was widely cited as an example of how Americans don’t understand the meaning of irony, despite the fact that Alanis Morissette is Canadian.” Now that’s also ironic.

Just a side note: back when Alanis Morrisette released her album “Jagged Little Pill”, I liked the songs and bought the cassette; remember, we’re talking about 1996. Years After my oldest son (who I have the utmost respect and admiration for and of) saw it in my pickup truck, he implied to me that I was not much of a man if I liked Alanis Morrisette. He said this while he was watching American Idol. To me, that was ironic.

Irony versus sarcasm

 

            In my opinion and also according to what I read in most dictionaries, there is kind of a fine line between irony and sarcasm. Sarcasm is typically spoken, whereas irony is more often written, but this is not the difference between the two. Sarcasm  or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. It may be used in an indirect manner, and have the form of irony, as in “My, your diet appears to be working well for you! (To someone who has obviously actually gained weight or lost nothing yet).

Whereas irony differs from sarcasm in greater subtlety and wit.

Here are some examples of irony I’ve found online:

1. The average cost of rehabilitating a seal after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was $80,000. At a special ceremony, two of the most expensively saved animals were released back into the wild amid cheers and applause from onlookers. A minute later they were both eaten by a killer whale.

5. Two animal rights activists were protesting the cruelty of sending pigs to a slaughterhouse in Bonn. Suddenly the pigs, all two thousand of them, escaped through a broken fence and stampeded, trampling the two hapless protesters to death.

6. Iraqi terrorist Khay Rahnajet didn’t pay enough postage on a letter bomb. It came back with “return to sender” stamped on it. Forgetting it was the bomb; he opened it and was blown to bits.

  • Some historical irony:
  •  In 1912 the Titanic was touted as “100% unsinkable”, and yet the ship sank on its maiden voyage.

Some irony from literature:

Author Jonathan Swift uses irony in “A Modest Proposal” when he suggests ‘-the eating of babies as a solution to overpopulation and starvation in Ireland.

A note from your child’s teacher which contains several spelling and grammatical mistakes.

2. A psychology student in New York rented out her spare room to a carpenter in order to nag him constantly and study his reactions. After weeks of needling, he snapped and beat her repeatedly with an axe, leaving her mentally retarded.

Well, I’ve been regaling you with different examples of irony, but the purpose was more for amusement than for teaching. It’s not an easy word to define. Not even language scholars agree on whether a certain situation is “ironic” or not.

There is actually a website called isitirony.com, I think, on which people submit examples of what they feel is irony and others vote on whether or not it’s ironic. I think it’s ironic that people who live on the internet think that they understand the word, “irony”.

My advice would be to keep away from this word. Treat it as if it were the plague. I can be a very sarcastic person at times, but after studying this topic, I now like to redefine much of what I was previously calling sarcasm as irony. It makes me feel as if I’m wittier and classier than I thought before.

The fact that this podcast appeared to promise to teach you about irony, but then ended by telling you to just not use the word, is ironic in its own way.

Thanks for listening till the end of this podcast, although you may not have learned anything, I hope that you enjoyed the music and the funny ironic stories. Listen again next week when I’ll bring you another Grammar Quick Tip. Until then, this is Mark saying Goodbye!

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