Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Rebirth of Irony

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 12:10 PM

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At the risk of sparking a language war, we invite Pith readers to weigh in on a weighty issue of usage: the use and misuse of "irony" to describe unexpectedly congruous events. A piece today at The City Paper on Vince Young's expected return to the starting QB role for the Titans includes this sentence:
Young, who lost his starting role after last year's season opener against Jacksonville, will ironically make his return as the No. 1 quarterback against the Jaguars.
Some will argue that the word "ironically" is misplaced in the sentence, since Young, when he makes his return to the backfield, will not himself be acting in an ironic manner (unless, of course, he walks onto the field while issuing irony-laden remarks to his colleagues). But the more interesting question--granted, interesting primarily to language obsessives--is whether or not this is actually a legitimate example of irony.

The New York Times stylebook observes that casual "use of irony and ironically, to mean an incongruous turn of events, is trite. Not every coincidence, curiosity, oddity and paradox is an irony, even loosely." The usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, meanwhile, has deemed it inappropriate to label as irony mere coincidences or disappointments that "suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly."

So is the fact of Young's return against the same foe that marked the start of his hiatus ironic? I say no, it's just a coincidence--but stand ready to be persuaded otherwise.

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