There are two types of people in this world: People who use “ironic” incorrectly, and people who insist on correcting the other people.
I really hate that I just used that two-types-of-people trope, bit in this case I think it’s pretty true. I have not way to prove this, but I feel pretty confident that every English speaker has used “ironic” incorrectly at least once in their life, and there’s a good chance that someone made you feel pretty darn foolish for that mistake.
I used to be the person who made you feel foolish. Every time I heard “ironic” when I was expected to hear “coincidental” or “serendipitous” or “seriously” instead, I would cringe and feel compelled to say something. And even though I tried to remain polite about it, teenage awkwardness and my generally horrible use of speech made a simple correction always came out as a really judgmental insult. I really wish someone told me how much of a jerk I could be (or that I listened when someone already did).
It wasn’t until very recently that I started wondering why my reaction to a misplaced word was so strong. I don’t that mad about anything, and even when I hear a a mix up of the same type with a different word, I don’t care at all. So why irony? Why is that the word I chose to be a shining knight for?
Well I think a lot of it has to do with culture. We all do kind of love telling people off for not using the word right, whether it’s Alanis Morissette, or one of your Facebook friends. If you didn’t click on that hot-link, you should do it now because it will take you to a site called “isitironic.com,” a site where people vote on whether something is ironic or not. Yes…I think we’re a little obsessed about the word “irony.”
After debating about this in my head while trying to sleep one night, the only argument I could come up with for correcting people is that the only reason language works in a society is if the entire society buys in and uses it in a standardized way. You wouldn’t try to pay for dinner with a piece of wood, or appoint yourself king of America, social constructs don’t work that way, and language is the social construct upon which all other social constructs are built. So to improperly use a word is like making a little rip in the tapestry of society, and we have to do everything we can to patch it up and prevent it from the foolish tearing it to pieces!
Or we can just get over it.
Yea I hope you didn’t agree with that argument too much, because I’m about to rip that tapestry up. First of all, society is not the mosquito stuck in amber in Jurassic Park. Every aspect of society is always changing. There’s just too many people on the planet for it to not. Secondly, almost every social construct is designed to be flexible, to adjust to new needs and changes. Money has inflation, Democracy has voting and political parties, and Language has words. That’s why the Oxford-English Dictionary adds new words to it’s pages all the time(a new addition I’m pretty fond of is Bank of Mom and Dad). Even words we use now had much different meanings in the past. I bet the last time you called someone “nice” you didn’t mean to call them ignorant.
Like it or not, language will always change through the years to fit the needs of the society that uses it. Maybe deep down we all know this, and it scares us. We are completely dependent on a tool that will outlive us and become something completely different. We see our words as the stakes that keep our tent from blowing away, when we could be using them instead to fly with the wind.
So when you feel compelled to correct someone for using a word incorrectly, consider going with the wind, instead of trying to stop it. Otherwise you might be ironic.
I almost made it the whole way without using ironic incorrectly. I just couldn’t resist!
Anyway, thanks for reading! If you’re interested in a much funnier perspective on what I’m not calling the “irony debate,” you should check out this comic made by The Oatmeal.
I realize this has pretty much nothing to do with happenstance other that people use irony instead of it. But what comes out, comes out.