by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
October 30, 2005
NOW ISN'T THAT IRONIC?
SYRACUSE, Ind. -- Irony is one of those problem words that everyone thinks they know what it means, but don't. I'm not even totally clear on the concept myself, even though it's a writing tool I use all the time.
According to Dictionary.com, irony can be language "used to convey insults or scorn." It is also an "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs."
So basically, when you tell your brother-in-law, "You're so smart. New Car Smell in a Can is a brilliant idea!" in a very sarcastic and belittling tone of voice, that's irony. When he becomes fabulously wealthy and says it's because you were the only person who believed in him, that's irony too. It's also a viable murder defense in some states.
It is not, as Alanis Morrissette would have us believe, rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you already paid, or good advice that you did not take. Alanis Morrissette knows as much about irony as a Luddite knows about computer repair.
As the Usage Panel from the American Heritage Dictionary says, it is not ironic that "Susie moved to Ithaca, New York to California, where she met her husband-to-be who also came from upstate New York." That's just a happy coincidence, or just plain weird, since Susie actually moved to a nun's convent.
What the Usage Panel does accept as ironic is if Susie moved to California in order to find a husband, but met a guy from her home town. But I'm still not really clear, so let's try another example.
There's an old newspaper adage that says "'Dog bites man' is not news, but 'man bites dog' is." Meaning commonplace everyday occurrences are not newsworthy, but strange uncommon things are.
But occasionally, a dog biting a man IS news. Especially when it's a new state felony. Especially when the guy who wrote the law is the one who was bitten. Especially when he was bitten by his own dog.
Bob Schwartz is the crime adviser to Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico. It seems Schwartz helped write a controversial state law that allows felony charges to be filed against owners of dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs, if those dogs attack or injure someone.
Possibly ironically, Schwartz was attacked by one of his dogs a couple of weeks ago, causing injury to both of his arms, and sending him to the hospital.
New Mexico's legislature passed the bill, Governor Richardson signed it, and bada bing, bada boom! Schwartz is a political tour de force. But his dogs just picture him as a giant steak. Schwartz owns two English bulldogs and a boxer, but none of the news reports specified which of the dogs attacked him. So it's a toss-up as to which dog made Schwartz his chewtoy.
I can almost imagine how it happened: "Hey Herbie, what a good dog. Yes you are, my Herbie-Werbie. Who had a bill passed this year, huh? Guess who got a new felony pass -- AAAGH, my arm, let go of my arm!! Get off me, you #^%$*&@ dog!!"
So is that irony? Or is it just plain funny? Okay, maybe it's not funny, considering Schwartz had to go to the hospital and the dog may have to be destroyed. But you do have to appreciate fate's fickle sense of comedy. But is it really irony? Some could argue that it is, especially if Schwartz ends up going to jail on a felony charge.
New Mexico state senator Sue Wilson Beffort, who worked with Schwartz on the dog bite bill, said, "(W)hen it happens in your own family, that's another story. That's tragic."
Maybe it's tragic irony. You know, when the unintended consequence leads to someone's death or injury. Kind of like those stunts that usually involve alcohol, some kind of explosive, and the phrase "Hey y'all, watch this!"
However, in Schwartz's case, it's not irony. It's just one of those unfortunate coincidences that make me glad I own beagles.
Real irony is more like when animal-rights activists, allegedly the Animal Liberation Front, released thousands of minks from fur farms in Britain in 1998. These minks, who were saved from becoming fur coats, instead wreaked certain death on farm animals, domestic pets, and even each other. Hundreds more minks were killed on British roadways or by people with guns and clubs.
This is probably a textbook example of irony. In an attempt to save a few thousand animals, animal-rights activists instead caused the death of several thousand more, including many of the ones they originally intended to save. The only thing more ironic would have been if the very mink they were trying to save actually turned on the activists and killed them.
But what would be truly ironic is if Alanis Morrissette wrote a protest song about those minks. And then they ate her.
Erik Deckers is America's most beloved humorist, at least as far as we're concerned.