...a potent blend of Miss Manners and Batman

Monday, September 3, 2007

I-ronic or Mo-ronic

Voice of Society Man is often forced to become Voice of Dictionary Man. The English language isn't some precious gift of the gods, but it's still nice to be able to communicate effectively.

When I was a youth, my father inculcated in me the value of speaking with correct grammar and precise vocabulary. He was forever bothered when 'hopefully' was used to mean 'I hope' ("Hopefully I'll see you later") or when people used 'unique' for 'unusual' ("That is the most unique dress I have ever seen"). Later we softened our shared stance, but there are some attacks on the English language that compel me to summon my alter ego. Perhaps the most annoying triumvirate are the words that have to do with unexpected results.

Alanis Morrisset wrote a song that beautifully illustrates the modern inability to differentiate irony from its relatives. Her catchy tune, "Ironic," succeeded in irony only because it had almost nothing to do with it.

Here is a handy referrence for the triumvirate words that have to do with unexpected results:

* Coincidental: X and Y happen independently tho they seem somewhat related
* Ironic: X happens because of attempts to avoid X
* Moronic: X happens because Y is an idiot

Morrisset's song consists of haiku-like images and some brief scenes.

"An old man turned ninety-eight / He won the lottery and died the next day"

Well, that's interesting, but the geezer was 98. Perhaps his ticker couldn't put up with the excitement of winning. It's a bit ironic, but the lines would have succeeded more had the winner been 38. The remainder of the song is even less in touch with irony.

"It's a black fly in your Chardonnay" -- That's just gross.

"It's a death row pardon two minutes too late / And isn't it ironic... don't you think" -- Nope. That's tragic, but not really ironic. Either the exonerating evidence came to light too late or the governor is a moron. Why doesn't he have the warden's cell phone number in his speed dial?

"It's like rain on your wedding day" That's just bad luck. It's not like the bride and groom inadvertently caused the precipitation.

Sports announcers are among the worst offenders when it comes to 'irony.' When Roger Clemens strikes out someone who went to the same college he attended 25 years earlier, that's just a coincidence. Clemens didn't strike out 4,000 batters over his career based on their college choice.

Of course, I'm not in the inner circle of sports announcers or pop songstresses, so I can't correct them. The best I can do as VoS Man is to annoy those around me by yelling corrections at the TV. But when I hear (or overhear) friends, family members, or strangers misusing 'irony,' then VoS Man must speak up.

Grandpa at the seder: "And then, when the Jews had made it to the other side, the waters of the Red Sea closed again, swallowing up the Egyptian soldiers who were chasing them. This was a bit of biblical irony."
Voice of Society Mensch: "Actually, that's a bit of angry and vengeful god. The irony is the Israel hasn't produced a track or swimming star ever since."

Hopefully I won't lose too many friends this way.

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About Me

My pesky alter ego who will set you right if you break one of the unwritten rules of getting along