Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Isn't It Ironic?

The first time I ever heard anyone go on a rant about Alanis Morissette's song's use of the word "ironic," I was still living in England. The ranter was this somewhat arrogant young British chap whose British manner of self-expression made the rant funny even though he was arrogant and he was using his diatribe as a a sort of "proof" that Americans have no idea what irony is. I think he meant people from the United States. (Isn't it ironic that she's Canadian?)

Since that time, however, I have heard a few North American rants about this very same thing, except they specify the artist herself as the one who doesn't know what irony is. These rants are actually kind of trendy, as a quick perusal of the comment section under the YouTube video makes evident. I confess that I have ranted similarly before . . . when I didn't realise just how many people were experts on the meaning of the word ironic.

The latest rant I heard on this topic, however, came from Dave and was directed at me. I had used the term to describe a series of coincidentally badly-timed real-life events which were in nature not unlike Morissette's vignettes. It was at this point that I got both snippy and embarrassed, because I had to admit that, even though I have a B.A. in English Literature and am continually correcting people's grammar and spelling in my head (if not aloud), I myself am probably not overly clear on the meaning of the word irony. Dave, who has a B.A. in Philosophy which requires better-than-average language skills as well, became very intent on trying to tease out the knots of this issue for me. However, because the examples at hand were Morissette's lyrics and my bad luck, the explanation fell a little short of a language lesson. It may not be ironic, but it's kind of a bummer when your life is getting moderately sucky and you are wrong about the word you want to use to describe it.

We managed to agree that a more accurate adjective for the situations posited by Morissette and actually being lived through by me is annoying. But last night another such episode transpired, and I would just like to say, in both my and Alanis' defense, that the reason we want to use the word ironic for these kinds of situations is because annoying doesn't cut it. That word is too broad. Lots of things are annoying and don't incorporate these weird little twists of what-have-you. There isn't a word for these scenarios, is the problem, see. There are combinations of words, but nothing nice and concise like the word ironic.

"Who woulda thought--it figures," is Alanis' more accurate summing up of both her and my scenarios, but you can't go around saying that all the time. Even "doesn't it suck?" or "isn't your luck terrible?" or "isn't it bad timing?" doesn't really do it, even though all of those things do, in fact, describe the situations in question. None of them touch on that thing inherent to these situations that Alanis is calling irony--maybe it isn't, but it's something beyond suckiness and bad luck and bad timing. I think we need a new word, guys. Right now, I'm calling it "go-figure timing," but don't try to make a song out of it, because it's still really unwieldy.


Anonymous said...

Also unwieldy: "Isn't it a function of living in a fallen world, where the 'now' and the 'not yet' of the Kingdom of God collide?" I'm pretty sure that there will be no irony or suckiness in the Resurrection.

Inihtar said...

``Ironic'' probably is a more ``songy'' word than ``annoying'' (sounds more like a minor inconvenience. . . not enough to describe some of these situations, as you say) ``coincidence'' or any of the other words that would probably be closer in meaning to her examples. Hope things aren't too sucky :(

dave grosser said...

Also just plain annoying: That conversation. I'm sorry Jenn. :(

Jennwith2ns said...

Bryan--very true. You have been thinking about this a lot lately, haven't you?

Ini--Yeah, things'll be fine. Just a few bumps in the road. Thanks. And I agree, "ironic" is more singable than "awkwardly coincidental," for example.

Dave--I toyed with the idea of not posting your comment, because it really wasn't that bad. Don't feel bad! Look--I got a blogpost out of it. I also toyed with the idea of not writing the blogpost because I thought you might feel bad . . . sorry, maybe I should've. I was just kind of mulling over what the alternative words were. Sorry, too!

Mary Anne said...

How about... a shitstorm.

Just sayin. It's got a ring to it!

(Feel free not to post if you like to keep your blog more pg-rated. ;) )

Jennwith2ns said...

Mary Anne--"more pg-rated" is probably preferable, but you are Mary Anne, so you get special dispensations. Plus, you're hilarious. Which is maybe kind of like saying you are Mary Anne, so you get special dispensations . . .

As for the accuracy of the label--it might be a little extreme for what I'm going through, but it does have a ring to it!