“Irony” is one of those terms that people seem to understand intuitively, though it can be difficult to define exactly. Just ask Alanis Morissette, whose 1996 hit song “Ironic” has been lambasted by just about every exacting literary type and high school English teacher because the situations she describes in her lyrics are more “unfortunate” than “ironic.” (Rain on your wedding day is also considered good luck by some, so not that unfortunate after all.)
Irony, in simple terms, is when a situation results in something that is different from or opposite to what was intended, or something contradictory happens that flies in the face of what everyone expected. Examples include a firehouse that burns down while the firefighters are out on a job, or a pilot who’s afraid of heights.
More than being unexpected, though, Ironic situations are also often laced with a twinge of humor: No matter how surprising the outcome, there tends to be a sense of “c’est la vie” that comes with the territory. Ironic statements, too, are hardly ever meant to be taken too seriously; irony helps us recognize the contradictions of being a human in this world, and there’s nothing more humbling than that. So with the warmest regards to Ms. Morissette and her non-ironic “Ironic” lyrics, here are 11 quotes from famous thinkers, writers, and beyond that really, actually are ironic.
I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
— Mark Twain
When I was young I had no means or time, and now I have the means and time, I have no youth.
— Bess Streeter Aldrich, author
The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive.
— Robert A. Heinlein, writer
I quote others only in order the better to express myself.
— Michel de Montaigne, philosopher
The irony of truth is that the greater its potential for offense, the greater its potential for giving hope.
— David Jeremiah, author
It’s the contradiction of life: If I were with them, I would only wish to be far away. Now that I am far away, all I do is wish for one more day surrounded by them.
— Laura Fitzgerald, writer
Remember: The time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.
— Douglas Coupland, novelist
Haven’t you picked up on the irony of life by now? Things only just happen when you’re not ready. When you’re ready, you start trying, and goddamn I feel like trying right now.
— Elizabeth Reyes, author
The irony is, of course, that my career has lasted a whole lot longer than some of the people I’ve parodied over the years.
— “Weird” Al Yankovic
Anything worth dying for… is certainly worth living for.
— Joseph Heller, in Catch 22
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