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'Ironic' is often used to mean an unusual coincidence rather than its true meaning which is closer to sarcastic. That being said, is there a word that would be a good replacement for what many people seem to think it means?

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It could be several words — coincidental, unfortunate, fortunate, odd... Do you have examples of what you think people think it means? –  ShreevatsaR Dec 11 '10 at 11:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 38 down vote accepted

I'd say something about the matter, but I think I'll let George Carlin say it instead because he's more eloquent:

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.

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+1 for the excellent examples from the great George Carlin –  ukayer Dec 11 '10 at 16:08
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Ed Byrne also has a go: youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg –  Kyudos Feb 19 '13 at 3:27

Depending on the misuse, "coincidence", "apposite", or "unfortunate".

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If you mean the sense Alanis Morissette intended, then "unfortunate"?

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Ironically, the word you're looking for is ironic, which according to Webster's means

happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this

Sarcasm is "the use of irony to mock or convey contempt," but it is not precisely the same thing.

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I think what @dave was asking about is usages of "ironic" like in that song by Alanis Morisette, where the only thing ironic is that none of the things she sings about is actually an example of irony. –  Marthaª Dec 13 '10 at 20:33
    
Thanks Martha, you are correct. The discussions here have been helpful. –  dave Dec 14 '10 at 17:30
    
@Martha: Some of them are ironic, some aren't. That's the real kicker. –  Marcin Jun 4 '11 at 12:47
    
@Marcin -- are you sure? I thought I knew the lyrics pretty well, I can't think of any. Morissette might be a unique example of a singer who, by (apparently) accidentally misusing a word, indelibly associates herself with it. –  Malvolio Jun 4 '11 at 16:06
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@Malvolio: Regardless of whether or not it's a good song (and I'm not a fan of any of her work), it doesn't take away from some of those verses being ironic. –  Marcin Jun 5 '11 at 7:00

protected by tchrist Jul 1 at 1:00

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