'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? Dec 11, 2010 at 11:52
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    If you look elsewhere on ELU, or in Wikipedia, you will find that you are wrongly insisting on a particular sense of irony when you say '[ironic's] true meaning which is closer to sarcastic'. Verbal irony and situational irony are very different. Mar 24, 2015 at 16:04
  • Isn't it "ironic"? Jul 7, 2017 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


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, 2010 at 16:08
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    Ed Byrne also has a go: youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg
    – Kyudos
    Feb 19, 2013 at 3:27
  • "I don't get it." If Darryl Stingley is paralyzed by Jack Tatum, then Darryl Stingley's son paralyzes Jack Tatum's son, that's ironic? Why isn't this "an oddly poetic coincidence," too? "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." What is this outcome the reverse of? What would be the appropriate result? Apr 12, 2022 at 8:41

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, 2010 at 20:33
  • Thanks Martha, you are correct. The discussions here have been helpful.
    – dave
    Dec 14, 2010 at 17:30
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    @Martha: Some of them are ironic, some aren't. That's the real kicker.
    – Marcin
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:47
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    @Malvolio: "A condition of affairs or events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be, expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the promise and fitness of things" (OED) describes, at least arguably 10,000 spoons when all you need is a fork, a free ride when you've already paid, and (arguably) the plane crash stanza.
    – Marcin
    Jun 4, 2011 at 17:29
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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, 2011 at 7:00

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


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

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