"ironically" again

Brenda Lester alphatwin2002 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Sep 5 18:39:26 UTC 2006

Stingrays are docile unless threatened. I learned this from yesterday's reports on Irwin's tragic death.
  The irony is that he was killed while working on a documentary about deadly, or potentially deadly, sea creatures, like Box jellyfish.
  I'm not sure what you mean by "defective understanding" of the word in question.  Do you mean the word "irony," or do you mean the defect is how the statement is constructed?
  I am not a linguist, but is this "ironically" construction similar to, "Hopefully it will not rain tomorrow"?

  I live to learn.

Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:
  As my original posting stated:

"In describing the shocking death of Steve Irwin on Fox News this morning, an Australian journalist explained that he was killed by the poisonous barb of a stingray. She continued immediately:

" 'Ironically, he was filming a documentary on the ocean's deadliest creatures.' "

No mention of the retiring nature of stingrays. The contextual presumption, if any, was that stingrays are indeed deadly. The sentence immediately preceding was, essentially, "Steve Irwin became famous both for his conversation efforts and for handling dangerous animals like alligators and crocodiles."

Nor was there any emphasis on the word "ocean's," as if to contrast it with "land's."

The point of all this is to help establish what appears to me to be the fact that media people and others are using "ironically" more and more as a transitional, sentence-initial word that carries very little meaning beyond "and" or "in fact." I suspect that the reason for this partly a defective understanding of "irony" and, perhaps more interestingly, a feeling that a follow-up, explanatory sentence with a pronominal subject just "sounds better" with some kind of introductory transition.

"Ironically" fills the bill perfectly because

1. "irony" obviously has a subjective aspect, which helps discourage objections such as mine,

2. any reference to "irony" will likely mark you as an educated observer able to evaluate facts from a detached perspective (vital characteristics for news people),

3. the four or five syllables of a nearly meaningless, transitional "ironically" provide a one- or two-second pause for listeners to absorb the more important information that has just been communicated,

4. the use of an introductory element like "ironically" softens the abruptness of the following one-syllable pronominal subject (cf. the sound of the original sentence without "ironically"), and,

5. as Larry suggested, there seems to be no handy, all-purpose adverb that can accomplish all these wonders with so little thought and nearly without regard to actual relationships between the ideas so linked.

To elaborate on point 3 alittle, this kind of "ironically" seems endemic to radio and TV journalism, but I have scarcely noticed it in print. One print example that I do remember, more or less, came from a Skymall catalogue about ten years ago:

"Joe Blow is an aviation artist who created this print of a DC-3 landing at the Wichita
airport in 1938. Ironically, Joe grew up in Wichita."

"Joe grew up in Wichita," "Joe even grew up in Wichita," "Joe actually grew up in Wichita," "Joe grew up in Wichita himself," all sound pretty simple-minded in contrast to the unutterable irony of growing up there and then painting a picture of the place decades later.



Laurence Horn wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: "ironically" again

>From: Wilson Gray
>>Ron writes:
>>"[I]f one is setting out to make a movie about dangerous creatures,
>>one does not really expect to be killed [by a dangerous creature], so
>>the sense of irony in which things turn out to be the opposite of what
>>one might expect also works here."
>>Works for me.
>Me, too. My first reading of the irony involved, though, wasn't from
>anything in the text itself, but from the larger context that the reader
>was expected to know: that this was *Steve f-in' Irwin*.
>After all, this is a guy who makes his living *not* getting killed by
>dangerous creatures. Therefore, it's ironic that his demise came about
>while he was doing his job, except in this case he did*n't* avoid
>getting killed by one of them.

Except that in this case it apparently wasn't even one of the most
dangerous critters (or at least not under normal circumstances) that
did him in. So the ironies just abound.


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