Let me start with a boring cliche—a dictionary definition:
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 weekend.
2) a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.
3) (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.
4) an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected
Through the years I’ve had several conversations with myself about whether the occurrences that Alanis Morrisette mentions in her song “Isn’t it Ironic” are ironic, or just bad luck. Here’s a snapshot of the lyrix:
Traffic jam when you’re already late/A “no smoking” sign on your cigarette break/It’s like ten thousands spoons when all you need is a knife/It’s like meeting the man my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife
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 . . . .
These lyrics really do not express the meaning of their opposites.
They do not indicate an attitude opposite to that which is actually stated.
They do not “give full expression to complementary impulses” (whatever that means).
They do, somewhat, indicate an outcome contrary to that which was expected, such as a sunny wedding day, or paying for a ride and getting your money’s worth. You’d think, too, that if you decided not to take some good advice, you’d have thought you knew what you were doing.
But really, these occurrences constitute bad decision-making or bad planning more than anything else. You had no right to expect a sunny wedding day! There’s no logical reason not to expect traffic when you’re running late, just because you’re running late. (You should have known there’s almost always a traffic jam at 7:30 AM.)
Getting a free ride when you’ve already paid just makes you a good, honest person for paying anyway. Your free ride may have been unexpected, or unnecessary, but it’s not necessarily ironic.
A “no smoking” sign on your cigarette break is a sign of the times. Come on, did you really think you’d be able to smoke here? Why don’t you just quit? Everyone hates smelly smokers and it would be better for your health anyway.
If you meet the man of your dreams and then find out he’s married, I’m sorry about that, but maybe you should have inquired into his marital status before you fell for him.
For me, the unforgettable image in this song is this guy:
Mr. Play-It-Safe was afraid to fly/He packed his suitcase, and kissed his kids goodbye/He waited his whole damn life, just to take that flight/And as the plane crashed down, he thought, well isn’t this nice.
Alanis, I’ll give you this one. This is irony. He finally musters up his courage to fly, and his plane crashes. And his comment – “isn’t this nice” — that’s definitely ironic. I’m not sure I’d be calm enough to be ironic if I knew I was about to die in a plane crash.
Finally, aren’t “ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife” just plain old bad luck?
Now that I have gotten this off my chest, maybe I can get the song out of my mind. It’s wearing me down.
For our mutual entertainment, here are a few fun examples of irony:
Finally, I ran across this sign when googling “irony,” but it actually reminds me of my fortune cookie fortune that I posted yesterday. It’s too good not to include: