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Irony: The definition
By C. Zach Hidalgo
Thursday April 15, 1999

Misuse of the word irony/ironic
Maybe you don't care, and maybe you don't know the difference, but have you ever noticed how many people use the words "Irony" and "Ironic" all wrong?
1. Well, if you do care or are interested in what "irony" and "ironic" really mean and how to use the words, the examples below should help to clear things up a bit. We will help to answer the questions: What is the meaning of irony and/or ironic?

My thoughts on the subject

A parallel
Based on what I understand, true irony involves two things; events and situations (or the like) that go in the same direction. Notice there is nothing going in opposite directions. There is a parallel involved, not repulsion. Try to picture "similarity with a twist" or "equivalence reciprocated" (if that helps).
Picture a train track when you think of a parallel. They don't separate from each other but instead resemble each other. Now throw in a role reversal and you have irony or something that is ironic. That's how something opposite plays a part in irony, but such contrast is not always a part of irony.
There are too many variables that create irony to consider listing them all.
Confusing coincidence w/irony
Don't confuse coincidence with irony or something that is ironic, which many people do regularly as well.
A coincidence may have a parallel associated with it, but that alone doesn't qualify it as ironic. A coincidence is the occurrence of an event, or series of events, that can happen by chance or accidentally at the same time or at different times but seem to have some connection. But actually, the things that lead to and become part of the coincidence usually don't have any connection to each other other than happening by chance.
Just because the odds of something happening are great does not qualify the incident or situation as ironic.
An example of coincidence that is commonly confused with irony or being ironic includes the similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. The following information is amazingly coincidental but NOT ironic in any way:
• Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
• John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
• Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
• John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
• Both were politically concerned with civil rights.
• Both first lady's were widowed while living in the White House.
• Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
• Both Presidents were shot in the head.
• Lincoln's secretary's last name was Kennedy*.
• Kennedy's secretary's last name was Lincoln*.
• Both were assassinated by Southerners.
• Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
• Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
• Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
• John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
• Lee Harvey Oswald, who Kennedy's assassin, was born in 1939.
• Both assassins were known by their three names.
• Both names are composed of fifteen letters.
• Lincoln was shot in a theater named "Ford."
• Kennedy was shot in a car called "Lincoln" made by "Ford."
• Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin hid in a warehouse.
• Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin hid in a theater.
• Booth and Oswald were both assassinated before their trials.
• A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
• A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.
* Unsubstantiated (no record proving this is correct)
A Quick Example Of Irony

A situation that helps to explain the denotation (the true definition...) of the word "Irony" can be told in a little story.
Say... someone you're familiar with (e.g. a musician, actor, official... ) gets into an auto accident. (We will call them person 1a)
The driver of the car that hit this famous person is someone from the town where you were born (who we will call person 2a) and in the news clip you find out was born on the same day and year that you were born (... and that's why you remember this incident so clearly - later).
Well, years go by and you're listening to the news and you find out the same person from your hometown is in the news... again. This time that person's child (who we will refer to as person 2b) was involved in an auto accident, but there's an interesting twist to the whole thing. (Recap... Person 2a's child, a.k.a person 2b, is in an auto accident.)
The interesting part about this news clip is that the CHILD of the person who was born in your hometown, was struck in their car while driving, by the CHILD (who we will refer to as person 1b) of the famous person.
(Recap...person 2a's child was hit in their car by the car of the child of person 1a).
Do you see the parallel?
That's what's needed in something that is truly "Ironic..." and that is a parallel of some sort.
Next time you think about using the word or any word formed from the root word "Irony," think of this story and you may not use incorrectly, as most people do.
Another example of irony
I found an excellent example of true irony (not what Alanis Morissette considers irony, which is not irony at all) on the Internet recently. The short story is below, or follow this link to view the story:
Jeff Frolio, 45, a television cameraman for KETV in "Omaha, [NE]" was shooting a story about a very dangerous intersection where two teens died [the previous] month. While running back to the van to grab another tape, [as] terrible luck would have it, he ran into on-coming traffic and was struck by a car--whose diver was neither drunk nor speeding. He died [later] that night in the hospital.
Used with permission from

Official (dictionary) definition
As you probably already know, the dictionary offers few examples and briefly defines irony as:
(Webster's New World - © 1995)

Irony: 1. Expression in which the intended meaning of the words is the direct opposite of their usual sense. 2. An event or result that is the opposite of what is expected.
These are basic understandings of the word "irony" (a.k.a. ironic) that have evolved to be accepted meanings without real substance, although useful in everyday (common) slang.

Urban Legend example

The following is an excellent example and excerpt from the Darwin Awards that further helps to illustrate the definition of irony.

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American Association for Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death.
"On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of one, Ronald Opus, and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency).
As Opus fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly.
The first of several interesting side notes is that neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect the window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide because of this.
"Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he/she intended."
The fact that Opus was shot on the way to (what was to be) certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his intent to commit suicide would not have been successful eventually caused the medical examiner to feel he had homicide before him.
The room on the ninth floor where the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. At the time of the suicide attempt, the couple were arguing and the husband was threatening the wife with the shotgun. The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger he completely missed his wife and the shotgun pellets went through the a window striking Opus as he happened to be falling toward the safety net.
When one intends to kill subject A but instead kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded.
The old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her -- therefore, the murder of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is because the gun had been accidentally loaded.
The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident.
It turned out that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and her son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun to threaten his mother, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would end up shooting his mother for him. The case then became one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.
That which follows is another most interesting twist in this case that helps to illustrate the definition of irony.
Further investigation revealed that the son [who turned out to be Ronald Opus] had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder through his father's consistent use of a shotgun in anger to threaten his mother.
In his frustration and anger that stemmed from his greed, Ronald Opus chose to end his own life and jumped off the ten-story building on March 23, only to be killed by his father with the shotgun blast (through the ninth story window) which Ronald engineered to originally kill his own mother.
The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
This article can be viewed at this link.

Hopefully you see some of the irony in this last "urban legend" situation... and I also hope you surf away from this site a little more knowledgeable about what irony really is. If not, please feel free to email me at with any comments and questions.
Thanx for visiting the InterActive Playground.
- Zach

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