Does Alanis Morissette's 'Ironic' Actually Contain Any Irony?

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Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" was released in February 1996 and to this day, a full 23 years later, it still bangs. But the subject of the song, irony, has been a thorny topic for language purists who argue much of the ironic moments described in the lyrics are anything but.

We were reminded of this when it started playing over the office's radio today, so we decided to take a look to see how it weighs up.

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Before we even delve into whether Alanis' claims are certified ironic, we'll need to have a quick refresher on what the actual definition is. Irony is defined in many ways, just like other words, but the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "a situation in which something which was intended to have a particular result has the opposite or a very different result."

Merriam-Webster notes there's more than one definition, explaining it's "the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning" while dramatic irony is "incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play."

Whichever definition you subscribe to, the common theme is that it's generally the opposite action to words. If you have say have a nice day and it begins raining, that's irony.

Looking at the lyrics of "Ironic", here's our verdict on whether the song's lyrics are actually examples of irony.

An old man turned 98, he won the lottery and died the next day

This is not an example of irony, in a strict sense. What would be ironic is if he needed the money for something to maintain his health and he died just as he'd finally received it.

It's a black fly in your Chardonnay

This is just an inconvenience. No irony detected here.

It's a death row pardon two minutes too late

While it's a tragedy, it's not necessarily irony. If you're using the dramatic irony definition, then sure, this could fit in a fictional setting.

It's like rain on your wedding day

While most would very much like to avoid this happening, it's not actually an example of irony. To make it an ironic statement, someone would have to say something like "luckily, it's not raining on your wedding day" and then it begins to rain out of nowhere.

It's a free ride when you've already paid

Because of the name of this game is being pedantic, this is going in the 'no' pile because the situation isn't specified. If you'd just asked for a free ticket, gotten rejected and then paid for it and immediately after were offered a free ride, this could probably fall into the irony category.

It's the good advice that you just didn't take

We all have probably had this happen to us but alas, it's too general to say it's irony.

Mr. Play-It-Safe was afraid to fly, he packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye, he waited his whole damn life to take that flight, and as the plane crashed down he thought, "Well isn't this nice"

This is mostly just tragic but in a fictional setting, this could be considered as dramatic irony. Especially, if someone had just convinced him how safe flying is and how nothing would go wrong on this flight. We'll put this in the 'maybe' pile.

It's a traffic jam when you're already late

Another major inconvenience we can all relate to but it's not irony, specifically. If you'd just called your friend to say you won't be late because there's never traffic at this time, it'd probably sneak in.

It's a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break

Nada on the irony front here. It'd be more directly ironic if you'd put up the sign.

It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife

A tad of an exaggeration but it's definitely life's frustrations but one that can sadly not be marked down as irony.

It's meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife

Meeting your dream crush and then their wife is not an opposite response. Again, in fiction, this could be dramatic irony if the audience knows the dream crush has a romantic partner but the main character has yet to figure it out. Even then, it loosely fits the definition. It's just a bummer.


But if you just want to listen to a 90s track that still holds up today without any pedanticism, here's the music video in all its glory.


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Comments

    Now do Billy Joel's 'We didn't start the fire.'

    I always thought the irony of the song was because nothing she was talking about was actually ironic. In a weird meta sort of way?

    Beaten to it, the ultimate in irony is that nothing about a song purporting to be about irony is actually ironic.

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