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Guest Curmudgeon Darcy says...

The word ironic is used incorrectly so often. People seem to confuse it with coincidental. Alanis Morissette wrote an entire song of incorrect examples of irony. Maybe an understanding of where this word came from would help people better understand how to use the word.

Yes, we know that song by Alanis Morrissette: "An old man turned 98.  He won the lottery and died the next day.  It's a black fly in your chardonnay.  It's a death row pardon two minutes too late.  Isn't it ironic?"  You're right, Darcy.  Irony is something entirely different.  In its usage notes, the American Heritage Dictionary acknowledges exactly what you have said, suggesting that many people use ironic to mean coincidental.  Here are the example sentences cited in the usage notes:

"In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York."  The usage panel rejected that use of ironic.  However, they accepted the following usage: "Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market."  The difference here is, according to the dictionary, that irony should suggest a lesson "about human vanity or folly".

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