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Irony-ing out all the wrinkles of coincidence from the year 1996

By Curtis Honeycutt

Jump into your DeLorean time machine for a moment and let’s travel back to the year 1996. Tickle Me Elmo is the hot Christmas item people are fighting over. Oprah just announced her first Oprah’s Book Club book. Dolly the Sheep just became the first cloned mammal. ER, Seinfeld, Friends and Home Improvement are dominating the TV Guide headlines. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls reign as NBA champions while MTV is still playing music videos.

Now that we’re together at the end of the 20th century, let’s talk about “irony” and “coincidence.” I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Canadian songwriter Alanis Morissette dropped this little number on us in her album Jagged Little Pill (which, by the way, has sold over 33 million copies worldwide by the year 2020) called “Ironic.” The problem is, the song “Ironic” includes several examples of coincidence.

“Irony” is a situation where there is a striking contrast between expectation and reality. Think about a vegan who can’t bear to part with her worn-in leather jacket or an IndyCar driver who doesn’t have a driver’s license. Other examples of irony include a barista who doesn’t like coffee or the fact that Dr. James Naismith, who invented basketball, is the only Kansas University basketball coach with a losing record. Isn’t it ironic?

“Coincidence” is when two or more things happen seemingly by chance. Suppose it rains on your wedding day. Or how about if you get a free ride when you’ve already paid. Picture this scenario: you’re on your coffee break at work. You want a schmear of cream cheese on your bagel. All you need is a knife, but all you can find in the drawers is spoons (10,000 of them, to be exact). If you worked in France at Groupe SEB, the leading global manufacturer of butter knives, you’d have an ironic situation on your hands. Instead, all of Morissette’s examples in her song are examples of coincidence.

Here’s the meta-irony: because “Ironic” doesn’t include any examples of irony, it’s actually incredibly ironic. When you take a song full of coincidences and title it “Ironic,” you’ve got a heaping pile of irony on your hands. For people who have made fun of this song for its non-irony, this realization can be a jagged little pill to swallow. Who would’ve thought? It figures.

—Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist. His debut book, Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life comes out on May 1.

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