By Barbara Perone
Seventh grade teacher to her class: “Would someone please give me the definition of the word irony and use it in a sentence?”
One brave boy raised his hand, and said, “I know what it means and here is my sentence: When my mother rushes around in the morning she takes my shirt out of the dryer and irons it quickly. The shirt usually gets little creases in it – and that’s what makes it look irony!”
Unfortunately, that is not the definition of irony, a word often misused and misunderstood, even by professional Writers, like me. I used the word irony in an article I was editing recently and suddenly realized I was using it incorrectly and deleted it.
Most people think irony means the opposite of something, such as, it was ironic that the fire house burned down. There may be a touch of irony in that statement, but, it is not truly ironic. If you read your federal income tax book, you can find a glaring example of a statement that contains a touch of irony.
It reads: if you are over 65, or blind, check this box. Unfortunately, that statement will remain just as it is until the good people at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finally correct it. (Just between you, me, and the lamp post, I cross my fingers every year, but, it never changes.)
Unbeknownst to many, there are different forms of irony; it can be accidental or fateful, but it always involves some form of dishonesty, fraud, or trickery. So, be careful when you are on a job interview and off handedly suggest to an Interviewer that a certain statement is ironic, when it really is not.
An example of accidental irony is the case of renowned safe driving instructor causing a 50 car pile-up on the highway. In this case, the instructor was (accidentally) deceptive because his actions (accidentally) conveyed the opposite outcome.
But, irony is best served when it is ever so subtle, e.g., when you say something that sounds flattering, but, is actually damning someone with faint praise. For example, suppose you met your general practitioner at a neighborhood barbecue; in front of everyone, you tell him: “Doctor, you have all the medical expertise of Hippocrates.” The doctor might think you were complimenting him, but the rest of the neighbors would view it as a veiled insult because they all know that your dog is named Hippocrates.
People may not realize this, but, the 1981 assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan was a shining example of fateful irony. Apparently, when the attempted assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., fired his gun at the president, one of the bullets ricocheted off the bulletproof window of the car Reagan was about to enter, striking him under his armpit, entering his chest, and seriously wounding him. Do you see the irony?
To determine whether something you have written is truly ironic, visit the website www.IsItIronic.com. Viewers vote, using percentages of up-to 100, to determine the irony of any statements you submit.
By Barbara Perone