Irony and Acronyms – a user’s guide

Warning! For your own safety, please put down all food and beverage before continuing with this post. You’ll thank me at the end…

For a writer, I’m not overly literary, don’t generally get my knickers in a twist when somebody dangles a participle or anything. But, perhaps because I love it so, I do get riled up when somebody says something is ironic when it isn’t. I’ve run into it a few times this week, and thusly, must commence my rant…

I don’t know what the actual definition of irony is (’cause I’m too busy ranting to look it up) but I think it’s something about a use of speech where what’s said differs from what is expected or usually intended. Now this doesn’t simply mean something is ironic just because it’s coincidental, surprising, or even disappointing. It’s more a matter of fate having a wee bit of a giggle at your expense (which generally makes me laugh a lot!).

Now, Alanis Morissette wrote a whole song about irony that wasn’t actually ironic. I know it’s cliché to bring it up, but I’m still kinda mad about that. Mind you, the fact her non-ironic song about irony has made her the quintessential pop-culture reference for irony, is deliciously ironic in and of itself. Rain on your wedding day, as I’m sure Ms Morissette has been told repeatedly, isn’t ironic, just disappointing. Booking your June wedding inside to avoid rain, and then setting off the sprinkler system – that’s ironic. Starting to get the idea?

Let me illustrate further. Being afraid of flying and then dying in a car crash on the highway is a tad ironic; however, getting broadsided by an Airporter shuttle on your way out of town would be VERY ironic. Having your cellphone die and not having change for the pay phone isn’t ironic, just annoying; having your cellphone die when you’ve got $10,000 in cash stuffed down your pants and still not having change for a pay phone is definitely ironic.

“Hilarious!” a friend of mine used to say when she really meant: “Okay, you’re trying to be funny, I’ll humour you.” This is indeed another form of irony, though more in the vein of a gentle flavour of sarcasm. Because of my friend’s influence I never could get that, people saying something was funny instead of just laughing. If it’s funny, I should be able to tell you think it’s funny, I don’t need you to say so.

Twitter and texting has kind of messed this up as people are far away and you can’t actually hear them laugh. Thus a whole line of acronyms have cropped up, but I think they unintentionally end up getting used ironically, in that “Hilarious!” sort of way.

So, while I’m trying to get you all to use the word irony in the right cases, I should also protect you from being ironic when you don’t mean to. So let’s be a little more accurate and descriptive with our acronyms: lol — really? did you actually Laugh Out Loud, or maybe just half smile and huff a bit? rofl — really? are you actually, right now, rolling on the floor laughing? How can you text like that?

In the spirit of preserving irony for the ironic, might I propose some more descriptive acronyms, and save lol for when you actually do laugh out loud.

  • cklchuckle, ’cause that’s more likely what you did (and people aren’t staring at you on the CTrain).
  • ltislaugh ’til I snort, this my darlings, is MY highest compliment.
  • lilplil’ pee, when you laugh so hard a little pee comes out (come on, admit it, it happens)
  • scocspit coffee on screen
  • ltifdahmhlclaugh til I fall down and hit my head, losing consciousness. Though, I suppose, you likely won’t be able to tweet that. Though you will likely tweet a picture of your stitches from the ER when you regain consciousness.
  • lticofhhhhlaugh til I choke on food. Help Heimlich! Help Heimlich!

Now, you’d really be wishing you’d checked in with foursquare on that last one, in the hopes somebody would read that tweet and save your life. To be clear, if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be ironic, just very sad. If, however, the second to last tweet you ever made was a link to a CPR first-aid course you were encouraging people to attend, your death would now be ironic, though no less tragic.

If somebody in the same restaurant coincidentally (yes coincidentally, NOT ironically) did read your tweet, leapt up and saved your life, twitter etiquette dictates you must take a picture of the piece of food that nearly killed you, and tweet that. Now, if somebody else saw the tweet of your near-lethal brussel sprout, laughed and choked on their food… that would be VERY ironic.

Got it?


5 thoughts on “Irony and Acronyms – a user’s guide

  1. I lol’d at ltifdahmhlc! I have always thought that Alanis’ song was just so fantastically ironic. I have to think that, given there are exactly zero actual instances in her ironic song about irony that perhaps she intended it that way. Now THAT would be clever!


  2. Hey! I never thought about writing a song about irony that wasn’t ironic as an actual ironic act.

    Yes! Let’s give Ms Morrisette credit for having incredible foresight and being terribly clever in a delightfully subtle way.


  3. Excellent post. Irony is a tough cookie, and you do a great job of providing some examples for the masses! I tried to find you a clip, that I adore, from Reality Bites (I think you’ve seen it) where Winona Rider is bombing a job interview and the hiring manager asks her to “define irony” and, as the elevator doors are closing on her, yells “I can’t define irony, but I know it when I see it!”
    In lieu of that, I give you the perfect portmanteau of classic lit, modern cinema and discussion of irony in the form of Steve Martin:


  4. God! I loved Reality Bites for that bit on irony alone. So excellent. And wazzisname later told her irony was the difference between what you expected to happen and what actually happened (or something to that effect), loved his definition at the time. Should definitely watch that movie again.

    Steve Martin clip is golden btw. “I stopped when I got tired of being stared at.” Irony is its own flavour of humour for sure. (and my favourite!)


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