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Irony: The definition

By C. Czach Hidalgo
Thursday April 15, 1999
This information/essay is copyrighted and protected by copyscape

Misuse of the word irony / ironic

Maybe you don't care, and maybe you don't know the difference, but have you ever noticed how many people use the words "Irony" and "Ironic" all wrong? Well, if you do care or are interested in what "irony" and "ironic" really mean and how to use the words, the examples below should help to clear things up a bit.

This page will help to answer the questions: What is the meaning of irony and/or ironic?

My thoughts on the subject

A parallel Based on what I understand, true irony involves two things; events and situations (or the like) that go in the same direction. Notice, there is nothing going in opposite directions. There is a parallel involved, not repulsion. 

Try to picture "similarity with a twist" or "equivalence reciprocated" (if that helps). Picture a train track when you think of a parallel. They don't separate from each other but instead resemble each other. Now throw in a role reversal and you have irony or something that is ironic. That's how something opposite plays a part in irony, but such contrast is not always a part of irony.

There are too many variables that create irony to consider listing them all.

Confusing coincidence with irony

Don't confuse coincidence with irony or something that is ironic, which many people do regularly as well.

A coincidence may have a parallel associated with it, but that alone doesn't qualify it as ironic. A coincidence is the occurrence of an event, or series of events, that can happen by chance or accidentally at the same time or at different times but seem to have some connection. But actually, the things that lead to and become part of the coincidence usually don't have any connection to each other other than happening by chance. Just because extraordinary odds of something happening does not qualify the incident or situation as ironic.

John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln

An example of coincidence that is commonly confused with irony or being ironic includes the similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

The following information is amazingly coincidental but NOT ironic in any way:

  • Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
  • John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
  • Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
  • John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
  • Both were politically concerned with civil rights.
  • Both first lady's were widowed while living in the White House.
  • Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
  • Both Presidents were shot in the head.
  • Lincoln's secretary's last name was Kennedy*.
  • Kennedy's secretary's last name was Lincoln*.
  • Both were assassinated by Southerners.
  • Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
  • Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
  • Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
  • John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald, who Kennedy's assassin, was born in 1939.
  • Both assassins were known by their three names.
  • Both names are composed of fifteen letters.
  • Lincoln was shot in a theater named "Ford."
  • Kennedy was shot in a car called "Lincoln" made by "Ford."
  • Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin hid in a warehouse.
  • Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin hid in a theater.
  • Booth and Oswald were both assassinated before their trials.
  • A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
  • A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.

* Unsubstantiated (no record proving this is correct)

A Quick Example Of Irony

A situation that helps to explain the denotation (the true definition...) of the word "Irony" can be told in a little story.

Let's say someone you're familiar with (e.g. a musician, actor, official...) gets into an auto accident. (We will call them person 1a) The driver of the car that hit this famous person is someone from the town where you were born (who we will call person 2a) and in the news clip you find person 2a was born on the same day and year which you were born. It's this reason you remember this incident so clearly--later.

Years go by and you're listening to the news and you find out the same person 2a from your hometown is in the news again. This time person 2a's child (who we will refer to as person 2b) was involved in an auto accident. The interesting part about this news clip is that person 2b, the child of person 2a who was born in your hometown, was struck in their car while driving, by the CHILD (who we will refer to as person 1b) of the famous person 1a.

Do you see the parallel? That's what is needed in a situation for it to be truly "ironic."

Next time you think about using the word or any word formed from the root word "irony," think of this story and you might not use the word incorrectly.

A random tangent

The song "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette is not ironic at all.

Another example of irony

I found an excellent example of true irony on the Internet recently. The short story is below, or you can follow this link to read the story:

Traffic story turns fatal for cameraman Killed filming risky intersection
By Eric Olson, Associated Press | June 12, 2004

OMAHA -- A TV cameraman was struck and killed by a car while shooting video of a dangerous intersection where two teenagers died in a wreck a month ago.

Jeff Frolio, 45, who worked for KETV in Nebraska's largest city, died Thursday.

The reporter who was working with Frolio said yesterday that the assignment had already been completed but that Frolio insisted on returning to the spot so that he could get better footage.

"I hope people understand that he was trying to make my story better, trying to make our coverage better and trying to give the people at home a better glimpse at the two lives that had been taken at that same intersection," KETV reporter Kevin Tomich said.

Authorities said no charges would be brought against the driver. They said there was no evidence the driver was speeding or did anything else wrong.

The accident happened near the same blind intersection where two teenagers were killed May 4 when their vehicle was struck by a pickup.

Frolio and Tomich were working on a story about the Nebraska Roads Department's plans to make the intersection safer.

Frolio was not satisfied with the footage, shot earlier in the day by another cameraman, of a roadside memorial to the two teens, Tomich said. The deadline for the 6 p.m. newscast was approaching, but Frolio insisted on shooting more video and got out of the KETV satellite truck.

Tomich said he popped his head out of the truck a few minutes later and noticed that cars had pulled to the side of the road and that a sheriff's deputy was there.

"That's when I saw the camera lying on the shoulder," Tomich said. "I went across the street and Jeff was on his back. The trooper was holding his hand. His eyes were still open. He wasn't talking. He was moaning."

Frolio died later at a hospital.

The intersection has seen many close calls. The problem, neighbors say, is that when drivers headed north or south reach the stop sign, they cannot see eastbound traffic approaching because of a hill. The speed limit for the east- and westbound traffic is 60 miles per hour.

A road sign warns of the blind intersection, but the Roads Department plans to create more shoulder room and move the painted stop bars on the road so that drivers can see oncoming traffic more easily.

Dustin Kruger, whose friend Kayla Wilkins was killed in last month's crash, said the intersection should probably have a light.

"When you come up on this intersection, you can't see halfway down that hill. About the time you see them is when you're about halfway into the street," he said. "You have to gun it to get around there or get across."

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company

Regardless whether the following story is true or not, it is an excellent example that further helps to illustrate the definition of irony.

Urban Legend example

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death.

"On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of one, Ronald Opus, and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head.

The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As Opus fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly.

The first of several interesting side notes is that neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect the window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide because of this.

'Ordinarily,' Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he/she intended." The fact that Opus was shot on the way to (what was to be) certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his intent to commit suicide would not have been successful eventually caused the medical examiner to feel he had homicide before him.

The room on the ninth floor where the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. At the time of the suicide attempt, the couple were arguing and the husband was threatening the wife with the shotgun. The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed his wife and the shotgun pellets went through the a window striking Opus as he happened to be falling toward the safety net.

When one intends to kill subject A but instead kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B.

When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. The old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her. Therefore, the murder of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is because the gun had been accidentally loaded.

The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. It turned out that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun to threaten his mother, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would end up shooting his mother for him. The case then became one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

Further investigation revealed that the son [who turned out to be Ronald Opus] had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder through his father's consistent use of a shotgun in anger to threaten his mother. In his frustration and anger that stemmed from his greed, Ronald Opus chose to end his own life and jumped off the ten-story building on March 23, only to be killed by his father with the shotgun blast (through the ninth story window) which Ronald engineered to originally kill his own mother.

The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide."

This article can be viewed at this link.


I hope you see some of the irony in this last "urban legend" situation and are more educated about the meaning of irony.




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