3.10.2007

oh, the irony

Although I ask people on this blog not to correct each other's spelling, usage and grammar, this is not to say that incorrect usage doesn't bother me. It does. Sometimes it drives me nuts.

Yet people who are very nitpicky about other people's grammar and usage also drive me nuts. I think we should all be more generous with each other, and that what's important is that we communicate, not that we communicate according to a specific set of rules.

Clearly these two modes of thought come into conflict.

And it's with that preface that I write this post, which is not aimed at anyone in particular, certainly not at anyone on this blog.

When it comes to language, the thing that drives me the nutsiest is the spread of fake words or meaningless expressions in the media. If you follow a sport, you see this all the time in the sports media. Words spread through interviews like wildfire cliches. One season everything will be prefaced with "obviously" or "and again...", whether or not it's obvious, whether or not the person is repeating him or herself. Another year it will be "Having said that...". Right now words are being turned into adverbs with abandon. "Relatedly", "admittedly" and "belatedly" are just a few that are making the rounds.

But here's my point, and I do have one.

Would everyone please stop calling everything IRONIC???

Every little coincidence is not ironic. Every time something happens that even vaguely resembles or contradicts something else, it cannot rightly be described as "ironically".

How's this for a sentence? I won't provide a link because I have no wish to embarrass anyone. In a history of First Nations people in Canada, I read, "...which happened ironically on September 11, 1883".

Can something that happened to native peoples in the Canada of 1883 be described as ironic? Because it occurred on a date that, 118 years later, would be famous for something else? That's at most a coincidence, but it's really not even that, as there's no connection between the two events.

Here's a coincidence. Two people meet in Chicago on September 11, 2012. It turns out they both lost partners in the World Trade Center attacks. They fall in love. Their meeting on September 11 is a coincidence. Their falling in love might correctly be described as ironic, although I don't think so. But September 11, 1883? There's nothing ironic there.

On the bus yesterday, I overheard this, "I'm telling you, she's out to get me. And it's so ironic, because I hate her too, but there's nothing I can do about it."

What is ironic about that?

For the next week or so, listen carefully to what you hear at work, on the street or on TV. When you read the newspaper, especially letters to the editor, keep an eye out for the word "ironically". See if what's being described is actually ironic.

That is all. Rant over.

27 comments:

West End Bob said...

Ironically, we were just discussing this yesterday . . . . :)

Couldn't resist!

James Redekop said...

I'm afraid Canada has to take a degree of responsibility for this inanity, thanks to Alanis Morissette popularizing the idea that "rain on your wedding day" actually constitutes irony.

laura k said...

I'm afraid Canada has to take a degree of responsibility for this inanity, thanks to Alanis Morissette popularizing the idea that "rain on your wedding day" actually constitutes irony.

This is hilarious. Thank you.

WEB, congratulations on being the first to get that in there. :)

M@ said...

I have been getting tired lately of the use of "literally". It's used for emphasis, I know, but it's been robbed of all meaning by now. I'm starting to try to fight it, though, by saying things like "I could figuratively eat a horse." If you can't beat 'em, and won't join 'em, sit in the peanut gallery, I always say.

laura k said...

I have been getting tired lately of the use of "literally". It's used for emphasis, I know, but it's been robbed of all meaning by now.

Oo, good example, M@.

Literally is often used to mean its opposite. "It was so funny, I literally fell out of my chair!" No, you did not.

I am guilty of overuse of the word literally. I think I will try to curb it.

I find it very difficult not to pick up these speech tics. They're so pervasive, they sneak right into your speech. Mine, anyway.

Jen said...

Ooooh I love this topic... I'm on both sides of the issue -- I bend rules and get stuck on them too.

I like to bend the rules especially if there is a pun to be had (see Alison Bechdel's Dykes to watch out for comics(www.dykestowatchoutfor.com) for heaps o' fun in this regard--the last couple have a bunch e.g.: mall=maul).

I think the difference though is that using language creatively takes effort whereas the examples you cite are people not knowing/ not caring to know the rules and just using language all willy-nilly and, in my opinion, is a bit selfish (not overtly, but still). I.e.: I know what I mean, let the listener figure it out for themselves. M@'s example is really good--"literally" used incorrectly doesn't add clarity, it muddies the waters.

I also think language is a reflection of a living thing (humanity, societies) and I love how it can morph over time. As a result, I don't get as bent out of shape over some changes (not all) as other people. For example some of my anthropologist friends can really get in a twist by the popular uses of the words culture, theory or evolution. Yes, it makes life difficult when arguing that the "theory of evolution" to an anthropologist doesn't mean "a tenuous hypothesis based on rare changes in individuals" (the popular perception) but that's language -- words have multiple meanings, so suck it up.

On "ironic": There is a good stand up sketch on you tube about Alais' song (only good not great because the comic gets a little more violent and derogatory than is necessary, as only stand-ups can do...)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg

My favourite bit goes a little something like this: "traffic jam when you're already late... well only if you are a city planner... AND you are late for a conference where you will be talking about how you designed the roadway that is making you late!"

I just avoid the use of the word ironic as I never know when I'm right or not.

Jen

laura k said...

Jen, I feel pretty much the same way as you.

Wordplay, in my opinion, doesn't fit into this, because that's consciously, purposely bending words for fun and creativity. (I also like Dykes To Watch Out For!)

I also think language is a reflection of a living thing (humanity, societies) and I love how it can morph over time. As a result, I don't get as bent out of shape over some changes (not all) as other people.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Although I recently said "language is a living thing" to a friend, talking about this same topic, and he corrected me... because language is not actually living! Well, that's figurative speech for ya. The way you've phrased it is better and more accurate.

I do think it's pointless - and wrong - to insist that words be used a certain way and not allow for the never-ceasing, always-changing flow of langugage.

But yet, some usages are flat-out wrong, and I appreciate that. Where to draw the line? I don't know!

For example some of my anthropologist friends can really get in a twist by the popular uses of the words culture, theory or evolution.

That's also about jargon, and the use of words within a specific community as opposed to among the general public. Your friends who get twisted about that probably do the same thing with other words that have specific meanings in other fields.

that's language -- words have multiple meanings, so suck it up.

Well said. :)

I haven't looked at that youtube clip yet, but I'm wondering if it's Lewis Black, who has a bit where he goes off on Alanis M. I'll check.

Thanks for weighing in!!

laura k said...

Jen, just watched the clip. Loved it!

James, check it out, the comic is riffing on the same thing you posted on. Very amusing.

Jen said...

Don't I feel the prude now*... I just re-watched the Ed Byrne stand up clip and realized it's not the one where with all of the nastiness afterall. I'd blended it with another clip--the only link would be bad 90's haircuts.

Jen

(by which I mean feel LIKE a prude. Haha, un-prudish double meaning which in reality would get me slapped depending on how prudish she was!)

laura k said...

which in reality would get me slapped depending on how prudish she was!

Slapped, but at least you'd have tried. :)

David Cho said...

Agreed.

Ditto with "literally."

And also, "to be honest." Am I to believe that people lie all the time except when they use that stupid qualifier?

Diamond Jim said...

A while ago, when I posted a complaint on my blog about some barbarous current misuses of language but resignedly sighed that i was fighting a losing battle, someone commented:

"Not only is a losing battle, it's a battle that shouldn't be fought."

Is that ironic, I wonder?

laura k said...

A while ago, when I posted a complaint on my blog about some barbarous current misuses of language but resignedly sighed that i was fighting a losing battle, someone commented:

"Not only is a losing battle, it's a battle that shouldn't be fought."

Is that ironic, I wonder?


It might be. :)

I guess that "someone" (me!) thought your "barbarous current misuse" was a natural change of the English language. Hence the second paragraph of this post. One person's meat...

M@ said...

Oh, David's list reminds me of others. A colleague where I used to work used the phrase "in actual fact" quite often. Pesky non-actual facts.

A similar one, that originated in the same workplace, was "logical sense", as in "that doesn't make logical sense". Because, you know, so many things make sense, but are illogical.

And of course, these phrases worked their ways into the speech patterns of everyone else, self included. Ack.

laura k said...

M@, for those examples, you need to call the redundancy police, known as the Squad Squad. This is from William Safire, back when he was a normal person and wrote about language. I'll see if I can find a link...

laura k said...

OK, I can't come up with one really good link, but I recommend Googling "squad squad" or "Department of Redundancy Department" along with Safire's name. I used to enjoy his "On Language" column in the NY Times, and the Squad Squad is something that has stuck with me for decades.

Jen said...

Umm... I know the point was NOT to be picky, but wouldn't "Squad squad" be the repetition police police and the "Squad team" be the redundancy police law enforcers?

Jen

laura k said...

What can I tell you, when it comes to the Squad Squad, I'm just reporting, not creating.

impudent strumpet said...

The problem with the misuse of literally is that you can't always use it, well, literally any more. If I want to say, "literally everyone on the street stopped and stared," people get the message that there were several people staring, and some other people going about their lives. So I'm stuck with "Literally every single person on the street stopped and stared. No, seriously. There was not one person who didn't stop and stare. The whole street was at a standstill."

laura k said...

"Literally every single person on the street stopped and stared. No, seriously. There was not one person who didn't stop and stare. The whole street was at a standstill."

I frequently sound like this when trying to describe something that was total. Literally total.

Jere said...

"The whole street was at a standstill."

Figuratively.

Having said that, where is redsock in these comments??

That was supposed to be ironic. I think. But either way, he wouldn't literally be "in" the comments.

allan said...

Irregardless of whether I post a comment, I am reading the thread.

And that's a true fact.

laura k said...

Having said that, where is redsock in these comments??

So Allan's speech-tic hatreds are well known, eh?

Jere said...

To me, anyways.*

Don't you hate when people say "anyways"?

laura k said...

Don't you hate when people say "anyways"?

Nope.

Crabbi said...

No offense, but my personal opinion is that the bottom line is what really matters.

Honesta said...

Well, the answer turned out to be number 2.

The question being: in what post from top down will someone mention Alanis and 'Ironic' (and Canada).

A UK stand-up comedian even invented the word 'Alanic' c. 1996, to describe 'unfortunate or coincidental but without intrinsic irony'. I've forgotten who, sadly.

Thanks James.