Is Ironic the Most Abused Word in English?

“That is sooooo ironic.” This sentence is used frequently — and usually incorrectly — in American English.

Often the word “ironic” is misused to remark on a coincidence, such as “This is the third time today we’ve run into each other. How ironic.”

It is also mistakenly used to describe something out of the ordinary or unusual: “Yesterday was a beautiful, warm day in November. It was really ironic.” And, unfortunately, it is sometimes used to simply emphasize something interesting. For example, “Ironically, it was the best movie I’ve seen all year!” We submit that ironic might be the most abused word in the English language.

Even Alanis Morissette was called out for being too loose with the word in her 1995 hit “Ironic.” The critics were so sharp that Morissette was forced to explain that she wasn’t trying to make every lyric in the song “technically ironic.”

So, what does the word really mean? And how do you make a proper ironic statement? An ironic remark conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. So, in an ironic statement one thing is said, while another thing is meant. For example, if you were trying to be ironic on a stormy, dreary day, you might say: “What glorious weather!” Or if you were suffering from a bad cold, you might ironically say: “I feel like a million bucks.” These are both examples of verbal irony, the most common occurrence of the figure of speech.

Irony is often confused with sarcasm. While the two are similar, in sarcasm there is a stronger intent to ridicule or mock, often harshly or crudely. Dramatic irony is inherent in speeches or a situation of a drama and is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play. Situational irony is an outcome that turns out to be very different from what was expected. This third type is the most prone to ambiguity and personal interpretation, setting up the potential for misunderstanding, and misuse.

Do you agree with our assessment, or do you feel we need to let language evolve no matter how far usage drifts from a precise meaning? What other words or phrases receive such treatment? Let us know!