Isn’t It Ironic?

It bugs me that the English dictionary is descriptive and not prescriptive. And yet, people still treat it as if it were.  The phrase, “look it up” seems to trump a great many arguments.  In fact, to my knowledge, there is no accepted authority for the definition of words.  English is an adaptive language.  If the populous misuses a word often enough, sooner or later, it will appear in the dictionary with the misused definition right there beside it.

I was discussing the definition of ironic with a fellow ponderer.  After a good deal of discussion, and because I was seen as an authority, we decided that the definition of the word indicated a sense of expecting a certain outcome from a certain action and achieving the totally opposite result.  For example: If you put up a sign that says don’t look up, the intent is that you don’t want people to look up.  But the irony is that the sign will actually cause people to look up.

It took a good deal of discussion to dissuade my compatriot of the notion that ironic meant coincidental.  He would say, “Isn’t it ironic that when you were talking about bananas, a banana commercial came on TV?!?”  No, that isn’t ironic.  That’s a coincidence.  I can see how the term can become synonymous with coincidence because the two go hand-in-hand.  One incident is the one which is intended to cause the expected or perhaps predicted result.  The other incident is the actual occurance of the opposite result.  These incidents work in conjunction with each other and therefore coincide.

So today, I went to an Internet dictionary to see how exactly the definition of ironic should be phrased.  What did I find? Two references to irony and a reference to coincidence.  I didn’t find the definition I expected until defnition #6 behind irony.  The word appears to be more strongly correlated with sarcasm but is still a notion of opposing expectations.

So, I looked up ironic and found that it was defined in a way I didn’t expect.  That’s ironic.  The fact that I was actually looking up the word ironic when it happened is…well…ironic (coincidental).  The fact that I just said ironic instead of coincidence is also ironic (sarcasm).

Blah. Language evolution is frustrating. I would use a dead language if using it wouldn’t corrupt it by bringing it back to life.

Notice in the definition of irony that coincidence is not mentioned.  This implies that the use of ironic to mean coincidental truly a corruption of the meaning.  So, I’m still right even if the dictionary says I’m wrong.  So there.

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