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May 27, 2004



"I also love how punk rock you are."

Wait...are you, like, being all ironic and stuff?


Avril Lavigne's rock credibility fell through the floor when she couldn't pronounce David Bowie's name correctly. He's David frickin' Bowie! He's got songs older than her!!


Well I do think that a character being afraid to fly one's whole life, and then finally getting on a plane that crashes, might have some understandin of their situation in marked contrast to the understanding of the audience.

Also the phrase "well, isn't that nice" might be intended to convey something opposite to their literal meaning.

Ditto the dramatic irony for the situation of a character in the song meeting the perfect man and his beautiful wife.


Good point, Bryan. However, if the definition of irony is "the opposite of what's expected", then I must disagree with that last sentence. When one meets the perfect man, one can *always* expect to meet his beautiful wife. Nothing ironic about that.

"Irony is a condom for the mind."


I enjoy mocking Alanis and Avril as much as anyone, but harping on how the situations in that song aren't really ironic is, "strictly speaking" justified, but realistically speaking not in step with how the word's meaning has expanded over the past few decades. It puts you in the same category as someone who complains about the Star Trek intro sequence because it splits an infinitive ("It should be 'To go boldly'!")

The new, "wrong", alternate definition of "ironic" as exemplified by Alanis has probably been in use for at least as long as Avril has been alive. Maybe Alanis too. You can't blame them for going with the flow. That's how language evolves. If you've ever used "access" or "google" as a verb, you don't really have the right to mock either of them.

(Of course, everyone draws a line somewhere. I myself will never yield to the forces who seek the interchangeability of "their", "they're" and "there", and misplaced apostrophes drive me nuts. But I think the new meaning of "irony" is so widespread that we should just consider it correct.)


My twelfth grade English students, while studying irony and critiquing Alanis' ubiquitous song which I force upon them once again, are quick to point out that encountering a black fly in your plastic cup of beer at a kegger party would be a bummer; a black fly in a glass of fine wine (which is what they assume all Chardonnay is), on the other hand, actually could be considered situational irony. And they certainly understand the verbal irony when she says, "Life has a funny way of helping you out."

So, in defense of poor Alanis, though she doesn't have the greatest examples, she does get a couple sort of right at least, and if nothing else, she's provided me with an interesting lesson plan in which I can explain the difference between irony and tragedy--and minor bummers that don't fit either place.

(My students also think it's crazy--and I really can't blame them--that people like us actually care about whether or not Alanis got it right in her silly little pop song.)

Adam Kotsko

I, for one, cannot think of even a single example of a rigorously ironic situation.


These days what bothers me much more than unhappy uses of 'ironic' is the vast over-use of the term 'random' in unhappy ways, again to means something like 'unexpected' or more 'slightly strange' or 'not exactly what I was expecting just now' or even more 'something to fill a gap becuase I have a poor vocabulary and hey, everyone else is saying "random" so I might as well too.'


'Good point, Bryan. However, if the definition of irony is "the opposite of what's expected", ...'

Well that was the definition I used for my middle example, which is the definition most commonly used. I happen to hate that definition and can see no usefulness in it at all, and would not be in the habit of describing things like that as ironic, although I am of course able to understand that others do. And given that this is the most commonly used form for ironic the song was most definitely filled with a number of vignettes describable as ironic, despite also having its share of non-ironic ones.

My first and third examples were of dramatic irony, which I think they were interpretable as.

in that context, Adam's "I, for one, cannot think of even a single example of a rigorously ironic situation. "

the classic would be Oedipus Rex, in his dialoque with Tiresias a propos whoever killed the former king.


Actually, I think I read somewhere that Alanis meant only the title as ironic, and knew that none of the situations in her song were. Then again, that could just be her covering.

Jeremy Osner

Matt -- I prefer "boldly to go where no man has previously gone".

David Salmanson

Actually, Keith, her rock credibility goes up for not being able to pronounce Bowie's name, precisely because he has songs older than her. Rock music isn't so much about slaying the father as it is completely ignoring him, no?


Jeremy, that's pretty good, but most prescriptive style guides these days strongly frown on the use of "man" in gender-neutral situations like that.

"Boldly to go where no-one has previously gone."

Also, "Space, the final frontier" is a sentence fragment. Possibly two unconnected sentence fragments! The horror... the horror...


Space: The Final Frontier.



As we learned from Jim Morison you're only a rock and roll god if you kill your father and sleep with your mother (or in little Avril's case, sleep with your father and kill your mother), just to fuck with people's minds, of course. So she still should be able to pronounce his name, even if it is to yell, "Harder, Mr. Bowie, harder!"

Thomas Williams

Re: the discussion of the split infinitive... you do know that there is pretty much no recognised authority who says "never use the split infinitive"? Even Fowler accepted that often it was the best or sometimes only option.

That sense of 'ironic' as something that is unexpected is, however, in the same category as using 'imply' and 'infer' interchangably: something widely frowned upon and to be resisted.


"or in little Avril's case, sleep with your father and kill your mother"
sorry, but even in Avril's case it's sleep with the mother, kill the father.


Irony is wasted on the stupid.

Anton Sherwood

I always thought Picard ought to have said "none have gone", making that line a perfect iambic pentameter, as well as reflecting the scarcity of individualism in Starfleet.

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