10 October 2006

The Erosion of Irony

I heard a song on the radio today that I couldn’t get out of my head, not because of the catchy tune, rather because of the artist’s choice of lyrics. “Ironic,” a song by Alanis Morrisette, talks about a series of misfortunes which ruin otherwise memorable and/or life-changing events. Such careless use of language is distasteful in general, and as is specifically illustrated in this case has led to the quiet demise of a once strong and literarily gratifying word.

Indeed, the concept of irony has been so diluted over the years that a recent edition of one dictionary lists its third definition as: “coincidental; unexpected.” (In an effort to maintain the dignity of said publication for those who may esteem it as one worthy of such, I refrain from naming it here.) My dear friends and readers, events, however ill-timed they may be, do not merit the label of such a grand word as ironic. Irony is in fact not coincidence, but “the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning;” or in experience, an “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.” (see The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition). This is not to be confused with sarcasm which lacks the wit and subtlety of irony.

Rain on your wedding day is not ironic – disappointing perhaps, but not ironic. A ninety-eight year old winning the lottery and dying the next day is not ironic. Honestly, it would be more surprising to learn the old man’s heart had survived the shock and that he lived. Alanis should be ashamed of what she has done here. An entire generation of school children will now grow into adulthood without a proper understanding of or respect for the irony in their lives. She has cheapened a precious commodity and sold it to the world as a thing of naught. For shame, Alanis. For shame!

However, Alanis may not be solely to blame. Indeed, her parents should share the burden of having instilled in her a misunderstood preoccupation with irony. You see, the very name “Alanis” is a form of Alana which is the feminine form of Alan, the meaning of which is not known for certain, though it possibly means either “little rock” or “handsome” in Breton. Hey, anyone might be confused if they tried to figure out why their parents thought they were a handsome, yet feminine little rock. Or maybe just a feminine little rock, or a girly sort of handsome…

1 comment:

lizbit said...

Ah, irony, a misunderstood and over-used word even in the English department at the University of Utah . . . is there no hope?


Related Posts with Thumbnails