Thursday, January 25, 2007

It Isn't Ironic, I Don't Think

I'm currently reading George Carlin's Brain Droppings (or, more accurately, an omnibus collection of his books, including that one). Carlin's a pretty funny guy even when I don't agree with him, but, man, he's just earned my undying love and loyalty for this succinct, well-formulated explication of the correct definition of "irony." I am quoting it here in its entirety because I think it is extremely important for every English speaker to understand this, in order to stop annoying me. (Yes, Alanis, I am looking at you.)
Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father's, it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is "a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result." For instance:

If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.

If a Kurd, after surviving a bloody battle with Saddam Hussein's army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.

Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley's son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley's son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum's son, that will be precisely ironic.


  1. I think you need to see a particular Futurama episode that deals with just this issue. It's The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings and was the last new episode ever shown...

  2. Like I haven't already seen every episode of Futurama at least twice... :)