Thursday, February 12, 2009

Not ironic

Last night as the result of strong thunderstorms and winds, the electricity and the phones went out in our neighborhood. The power and phone were still out this morning. When I got to work (where there is power) I spent an hour calling first one utility, then the other. The phone company was hopeful, they said "perhaps today;" the electricity company was less positive, "by Sunday" they said. After the calls, the first e-mail I read was a message from Earth Hour, asking me to participate in Earth Hour 2009 on March 28, when everyone around the world is asked to turn off their electricity for one hour. This is the kind of coincidence that most people erroneously call "ironic" (as in the Alanis Morissette song "Isn't It Ironic"). Only problem is it isn't. It is a mildly humorous, odd juxtaposition of bad luck with another unrelated but similar event; not irony.

Irony according to Wikipedia is a
"literary or rhetorical device, in which there is an incongruity or discordance between what one says or does and what one means or what is generally understood. Irony is a mode of expression that calls attention to the character's knowledge and that of the audience.

There is some argument about what qualifies as ironic, but all senses of irony revolve around the perceived notion of an incongruity between what is said and what is meant; or between an understanding of reality, or an expectation of a reality, and what actually happens."
The Merriam-Webster On-line dictionary adds the following in addition, that irony is :
incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony tragic irony."
It isn't even "situational irony" or "cosmic irony." Situational irony is when "discrepancy between the expected result and actual results when enlivened by 'perverse appropriateness'" according to Wikipedia.

Situational irony would be if something that I did to observe Earth Hour resulted in blacking out the electricity for my entire neighborhood. Or conversely, situational irony would be, if in attempting to organize a city to observe Earth Hour (to use less electricity) caused more people to come into the city, and thus use more electricity rather than less.

Cosmic irony or "'irony of fate' stems from the notion that the gods (or the Fates) are amusing themselves by toying with the minds of mortals with deliberate ironic intent. Closely connected with situational irony, it arises from sharp contrasts between reality and human ideals, or between human intentions and actual results." (Wikipedia)

Cosmic irony is the essence of my favorite TV show "LOST." All the effort that Jack puts in to getting his people off the island, only to realize that leaving the island was the worse thing he could do, and has to put in equivalent energy trying to find a way back to the island.

But my situation with the power outage and the e-mail, was an odd, interesting, coincidence that makes one want to wince a bit and say "ouch," is NOT ironic. Unfortunately, we don't have a good word to use for this type of slightly humorous, sometimes cruel, oddly timed, situations where bad luck and coincidence collide. So people misuse the word "ironic." I appeal to all you folks that love language -- can you think of a good, pithy adjective or adjectives that we can use instead of "ironic"?


Qaro said...

I hope your power and phone are back on soon! Very interesting post! I hope someone can answer the challenge! I don't have the answer. But I accidentally provided another example for you trying to write a Valentine's Day haiku for my husband. Just thinking about the high winds we had last week and economic insecurity etc. Not about your misfortune...

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking perhaps it should be called a quirk of fate?

Sue said...

quirk of fate sounds good to me.