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Words that Bug Me: Irony

As a 5th generation UC Berkeley alum, that I used to donate blood at the Stanford Medical Center is a bit ironic.
As a 5th generation UC Berkeley alum, that I used to donate blood at the Stanford Medical Center is a bit ironic.

I have previously ranted – and will rant again, I am sure – about words because I feel they are misused or I do not care for their meaning. “Irony,” however, does not fit into either of their categories. Instead, “irony” bugs me because I don’t get it. Occasionally, I know an example of it, but, for the most part, when it comes to irony, I’m in the dark.

I was wandering around one of my new favorite sites, DailyWritingTips, and found What is Irony? (With Examples) and thought that, finally, I would understand. Nope. Once again, the internet proves that it is the best source of information – and confusion – ever.

The article included dictionary definitions that helped me not one whit. And the promised examples were sketchy.

An Interesting Point

Then I started looking at some of the 167 comments. Wow, I can only hope my rants become so eloquent.

One person did offer these basic definitions:

1. The truth is different than what is perceived.

2. The outcome is different than what is expected.

Instantly, I thought, “but that’s not enough!”

And then, the very next comment explained why the above definitions are insufficient for me:

“[I]t would seem to me that just because truth is different from perception, and/or outcome doesn’t meet expectations, does not mean something is ironic. There must be some other twist that makes an ordinary misperception, or an unexpected outcome, take on the cloak of irony.”

Is irony just a misperception? Or is it something bigger? For something to be ironic, doesn’t it have to be more impressive than just an unexpected result?

If not, then most scientific study is ironic.

Maybe it’s Cultural

Another comment suggested that the reason Americans have such a hard time with the term is that we are somehow emotionally stunted when it comes to irony.

Could be, considering how many Americans hate British humor. Personally, I don’t hate British humor, I just understand that I don’t understand it. And, if British humor is ironic, is it any wonder why I’m confused?

More than Cultural

There are words in languages that do not properly translate into English simply because they represent something –a weather condition, an experience, a geographic feature – that is not something anyone who speaks English is familiar with. I think “irony” falls into that category.

What? But we are speaking about a word in the English language, how can it not translate into English?

Well, because US-English, British-English, Australian-English, and Canadian-English are different languages. They are closely related, but the different locations called for different evolutions of the original language. (Forgive me if I missed your particular variation of the original language, the ones named are the ones I have experience with.)

I believe that “irony” came to the US and the understanding of it got lost as we created our own language to meet the needs of our unique environment and culture.

What do you think?

-Lorrie Nicoles