Friday, February 22, 2013

Isn’t it Ironic?

We had solar panels installed today and, of course, it’s been raining ever since. Is that ironic? Actually, no, not according to the strictest definition of the word, according to which irony refers to a verbal statement in which the intended meaning is the opposite of the words used to express it. Now this statement is ironic: “We had solar panels installed today, and I am so glad that it hasn’t stopped raining since.” Poor Alanis Morissette has copped criticism for her song, Ironic, based on this strict definition. So, for example:

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic... don't you think...

Ermmm, well... no, actually, at least not according to the strict definition. But:

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
 And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well isn't this nice..."
And isn't it ironic... don't you think

Yes, his thought is indeed ironic, although the crash, strictly speaking, isn’t.

However, language has a way of breaking out of its confines and taking us in a new direction. This we resist for as a long as we can, until, eventually, we have to concede that a word has taken on a new meaning. Ironic may be such a word. There is, for example, something referred to as “cosmic irony”.  According to cosmic irony, fate, or “the gods”, brings about a result which is the complete opposite of what we might have expected from our actions or from our circumstances. So, for example, if I went for a holiday in the deserts of central Australia and were drowned in a flood, this might be considered an example of cosmic irony. This still contains the element of contrariness that is embodied in ironic speech, and it is understandable how the term “ironic” may come to be applied in this situation, although it harks back to a mythical way of thinking, in which the gods toy with humankind. In this sense, many of Alanis’ examples are, indeed, ironic. So perhaps the critics should be less harsh with her.

So, about our solar panels. Perhaps this is an example of cosmic irony. However, if it isn’t ironic that it hasn’t stopped raining from the time the solar panels were installed, what is it? Bloody annoying, that’s what!

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