On this date in 1996, singer songwriter Alanis Morissette released her song “Ironic,” a song from her album Jagged Little Pill. Although the song was a hit, reaching number 4 on the Billboard Top 100, the song’s title “Ironic” is a misnomer. As you can see by the lyrics of the song’s chorus, for example, the situations described may be unfortunate, but they are not ironic:
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
To understand the concept of irony, it’s necessary to understand its various forms, forms that relate to spoken language (Verbal Irony), to real life situations (Situational Irony), and to literary situations (Dramatic Irony):
Verbal Irony: A type of figurative language where someone intentionally says one thing while meaning another thing, usually the exact opposite. This usually involves the use of overstatement or understatement, as in “I can’t wait to get home and get to work on my 10 hours of homework” or “Yeah, Michael Jordan is pretty good basketball player.” One specific subclass of verbal irony is sarcasm, which is irony that is used to insult or to cause harm.
Situational Irony: Irony that involves a situation in which actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended or when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. For example, rain on your wedding day is not ironic but a fire station that burns down is.
Dramatic Irony: This type of irony occurs in fiction and involves events in a story where the audience is aware of something that the characters in the story are not. For example, in Romeo and Juliet this occurs when Juliet’s father and mother are planning her wedding to Paris. The audience knows that Juliet is already married to Romeo, but the Capulets are clueless.
Based on these definitions we can conclude that the only thing ironic about Morissette’s song is that a song that is entitled “Ironic” contains nothing ironic.
Probably the best thing about Morissette’s song is that it spawned a website devoted entirely to the topic of irony called IsItIronic.com. Founded by Paul Lowton in 2006, the mission of IsItIronic.com is to provide a writer’s resource for definitions and examples of irony. At the site, readers can submit their own questions, such as “Is it ironic that there was a hotdog eating contest to raise money for obesity awareness?” Readers at the website are also invited to calibrate their own sense of true irony by voting on the questions submitted.
The following are irony questions submitted by readers. Each is followed by the percentage of readers who answered, “Yes, it is ironic.”:
Is it ironic if you have a phobia of long words you have to tell people that you have hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia? (91%)
Is it ironic that: It takes sadness to know what happiness is.. It takes noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence”? (63%)
Is it ironic that a student spells every word on a spelling test wrong except for the word illiterate? (85%)
Is it ironic that I cut myself on a first aid box? (84%)
Is it ironic that a tree dedicated to George Harrison has been killed by Beetles? (65%)
Today’s Challenge: A Tale That’s Dripping With Irony
What is a story you have heard or a personal experience you have had that involves real irony? Tell a story that contains one of the three forms of irony. It may be a true story based on your experiences, a story you have heard second hand, or a fictional anecdote you create.
Quotation of the Day: The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive. -Robert A. Heinlein