It's ironic if a fire station burns down while everyone's out fighting a fire elsewhere because the fire station is for housing people to put out fires and therefore is the least likely place for a fire.

It's ironic to use words so that they mean the opposite of their literal meaning. (Sarcasm and such)
Incongruity between the expected/normal results and the actual results.

(Request permission to nuke Webster_1913, sir!)

A song by Alanis Morisette, which is a shining example of how "irony" has become quite a misnomer.

A man turning 98, winning the lottery and dying is not ironic. That's just a bummer.

A black fly in your Chardonnay isn't ironic. At least not without more context.

A traffic jam when you're already late, a free ride when you've already paid, a non-smoking sign on your cigarette break, 10,000 spoons when you need a knife, rain on your wedding day - all of these things suck, but bad luck isn't the same as irony.

Meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife is situtational irony though, as there is some expectation. The guy who's afraid of flying and then crashes on his first flight, maybe.

However, I do think it's possible that Morisette is a smart woman and sung the song intentionally - because it is quite ironic that a song called "ironic" has little to do with irony.

George Carlin said he was sick and tired of how misused "ironic" was getting in the world. The true definition is "when something happens in the exact opposite of what you expect."

I remember him saying this once in one of his books.

If a diabetic is hit by a truck, it's a normal death.
If a diabetic is hit by a sugar truck, it's an odd and tragic death.
If a diabetic is hit by an insulin truck, it's a coincidental and oddly poetic death.
But if a diabetic is on his way to get some insulin and he gets hit by an insulin truck, then that's ironic.

It was also a background plot device in Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

Irony in its most broad sense refers only to a discrepancy; there are three basic types of these discrepancies: Ideal vs. Real, Expectation vs. Fulfillment, and Appearance vs. Reality; all of which can overlap each other.

  • Appearance versus Reality refers to a situation/person/whatever that appears to be one thing, but is in fact another. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy appears to be the villain, but is in fact the hero, and Wickham appears to be a hero, but is in fact a villain.
  • Expectation versus Fulfillment. You expect one thing, but get another; often the opposite. Now here's where Ms. Morissette gets some poetic justice, as most of her examples fall into this category.
    It's meeting the man of my dreams
    And then meeting his beautiful wife
    Her Hollywood expectation was that she would introduce herself to this man and they would be swept up into a Hollywood romance. Instead, he already has his storybook wife with whom Ms. Morissette could never compete with. Also falling into this category are the following lines:
    An old man turned ninety-eight
    He won the lottery and died the next day
    This man expected to be spending his millions of dollars on expensive things (as did we the listeners) but in an ironic twist of fate he dies.
  • Ideal versus the Real. This occurs when we have this fairy tale ideal of how things should be, and have our expectations shattered when the real world turns out to be different. Again Alanis Morissette saves the day:
    It's like rain on your wedding day
    The ideal of a perfect weather wedding day is killed by the reality of soaked guests and running mascara.

    I could go on and fit the rest of the song into these categories, but you're all smart people and I'm sure you can do it yourself.


    A few exceptions I would like to make now that I look back:
    It's the good advice that you just didn't take
    That is not ironic. If you can call that ironic, you can call just about anything ironic.
    It's a black fly in your chardonnay
    To say this is ironic is reeeeaaalllly pushing it. One could say it was expectation versus fulfillment, but that's going a bit too far, as we have no idea what her expectations were. If we were given more context, perhaps if we were given a whole story of her expectations of how wonderful the Chardonnay was going to be, then it would be ironic. I think she was trying to imply that Chardonnay is something considered expensive and fine, but that's why it's a stretch: one can buy really cheap Chardonnay.

    One final note (ya, I know, I should stop): if you exaggerate the discrepancy, you get satire.

  • I*ron"ic (?), a.

    Ironical.

    Sir T. Herbert.

     

    © Webster 1913.

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