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WEST CHESTER, Penna. - When President Obama said that America had been "lazy" for the past few decades, he was talking about our national language scandal. Americans, the president said, are too lazy to search for the home run utterance; they settle instead for a cheap single up the middle; and that, boys and girls, is why the word ironic has been bastardized beyond recognition.
Before we begin today's lesson, let's find out if you're one of the bastards responsible for the gang rape of ironic.
Does ironic mean a) possessing toxic amounts of iron, b) coincidental, c) an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs, d) an element with an atomic weight of 55.847?
If you answered a or d, you are incorrect. If you answered b, you might be the sort of rat-fucking, butt-scratching dunderhead responsible for turning the English language into a shit heap.
Ironic means "an incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs." For example, the DeLacey family in Frankenstein values intelligence and virtue, yet they set upon the Creature, who possesses both these qualities, and drive him from their house simply because he is uglier than Nancy Grace
That is ironic, boys and girls: bad things happening to a good Creature at the hands of other good creatures. The following are not ironic: a traffic jam when you're already late or a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break.
Those examples of stupidity and several others like them can be found in a song called Ironic by the unforgivably louche Alanis Morissette. That sorry wildebeest appears to have confused ironic with coincidental, and so have countless other fuckwads. It is not ironic if you're late and you get stuck in a traffic jam, because there is no incongruity between what you might expect (a normal amount of traffic) and what actually occurs (a two-mile gaper delay).
By comparison, when the DeLaceys went vigilante on the Creature, there was an incongruity between their behavior and the behavior that might be expected from intelligent, virtuous people who are confronted with the unusual.
Still scratching your ass rhetorically? Let's try another example.
You're driving to the supermarket talking to your friend Bitsy on your cell phone. A while later, as you're standing in the "15 items or less" line (which should be the "15 items or fewer" line), you see Bitsy's brother Barry, and you exclaim, "How ironic, I was just talking to your sister."
That is not ironic. It is simply a coincidence that you saw Barry a few minutes after talking to his sister. There is no incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs, because talking to Bitsy while you're driving does not raise any expectations beyond the expectation that you're more likely to crash the car because you're talking on the goddamn phone.
Got that? Let's see if you really do.
Instead of taking a nap indoors today, you decide to snooze in the hammock in the yard. As you're sleeping, a chunk of blue ice is released accidentally from a plane flying overhead. The ice lands on you, sending you into a near fatal coma. Irony, coincidence, or tough shit?
While you're chewing on that one, boys and girls, The Grammar Prick has to go and delete a few people from his 2011 Xmas card list. He'll probably start with people who don't know the difference between irony and coincidence.
One other thing: there is more than one kind of irony. The kind we discussed today is known as situational (or sometimes dramatic) irony. Its cousin, verbal irony, occurs when your friend falls on his face after tripping over his own feet, and you exclaim, "Way to go, graceful."