Printable Version
Pronunciation: ai-rahn-ik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Pertaining to a figure of speech (irony) in which the intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. 2. Related to a surprising state of affairs opposite to what would naturally be expected: it would be ironic for a car dealer to have to walk to and from work.

Notes: Like another Good Word, reticent, today's word is often misused. If twin brothers, separated at birth, go on to both marry women named Ursula and keep Egyptian hairless cats, that would be coincidental but not ironic. It is neither coincidental nor ironic that the second President Bush stood on the same inaugural podium where his father stood only 12 years earlier, just a fact. Now I am at a loss for a good example of irony. After all this discussion of irony, that would be ironic. (Of course, it isn't true.)

In Play: Irony is found in expressions of just the opposite of what we mean: "Oh, no, John doesn't know anything about music" (knowing he graduated with honors from Juilliard). However, be careful here: if this type of irony is spoken caustically, it becomes sarcasm. This is a concept describing some of the more entertaining events of life. "I find it ironic that the chef at Chez Pierre eats his meals around the corner at Sam's Diner." Irony can also be found around the house: "Ironically, Sue's mom found her car keys in the car after ransacking the house for them."

Word History: Today's Good Word is another in a long line of borrowings from French. This time it began as French ironique, a descendant of late Latin ironicus. The Latin adjective was borrowed from Greek eironikos "dissembling, feigning ignorance", itself an extension of eiron "dissembler". Eiron probably came from eirein "to say". If so, we know that Greek eirein came from the Proto-Indo-European root wer-/wor- "word" which, with the suffix -dho, came directly to English as word and to Latin as verbum "word". We mentioned this root recently in exploring the history of rhetoric. (There is nothing ironic in our expression of appreciation to Nathan Fleming for suggesting today's word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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