The Grammarphobia Blog

Isn’t it ironic?

Q: I’m always hearing newscasters use the words “irony,” “ironic,” or “ironically” for something that’s surprising or coincidental. I thought “irony” is supposed to be when you say something but mean just the opposite. Or has its meaning changed while I wasn’t looking?

A: No, the meaning of “irony” hasn’t changed, but the more it’s used these days, the more it’s abused. Now, that’s ironic. Here’s the story: “Irony” is saying one thing when you mean pretty much the opposite. Something is “ironic” when it’s the opposite of what you’d expect.

If something is coincidental or surprising, like the burglary of a jewelry store on the same date two years in a row, it’s not ironic. But if the burglars stole a diamond necklace with a homing device that led the police to them, that’s ironic.

Language does change, but the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language still overwhelmingly objects to the use of “irony” and company to refer to something that’s improbable or coincidental. Amen!

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