SAT Vocab: ironic

2010-05-02 in English, Grammar, Vocabulary

SAT vocab: What does “ironic” mean?

Definition: contrary in a poignant, improbable, and often humorous way to what might have been expected (Ex: it was ironic that the fitness expert died at a young age of a heart attack).

(N.B. There are many other definitions of ironic; I want to focus on this one only for this entry.)

Part of Speech: adj

Pronunciations: eye-RON-ick
or, if you prefer the IPA: /aɪˈɹɒn.ɪk/

Example: It is ironic that Jim Fixx, largely responsible for popularizing running as a sport, died of a heart attack after his daily run at the relatively young age of 52.

Discussion: ironic is an interesting word for many reasons, including the simple fact that the word irony is used in a wide variety of ways. I think a lot of people cringe when they hear the word irony because they think of dramatic irony and are confused by the term. (Dramatic irony simply refers to a situation in which the audience knows something that one or more of the characters doesn’t. For example, have you ever seen a movie and known who the killer or attacker or whatever was? But the character didn’t? And was having lunch with the killer? That situation uses dramatic irony; the idea is that the suspense is somehow heightened since the viewer feels an urge to act or communicate with the character. Hey! OMG! That’s the killer! Don’t go down that alley with him! (Or her.) If you’ve had that feeling, then you’ve experienced the effect of dramatic irony. :) )

But the word ironic in recent years has commonly come to mean something different, especially in modern American culture. We say, for example, that it’s ironic that a doctor, whose primary objective as a physician is to promote health, should smoke. Or that a person of the cloth should engage in untoward conduct.

In a later entry, I plan to discuss a related word, ironically. And please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!

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