Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get It Right: Irony and Coincidence

It has been quite a while, but we're finally back with another installment of our grammar-centric "Get It Right" series. In the past we've looked at all kinds of grammatical errors in English, particularly words with similar spellings that have vastly different definitions, such as cents, scents, and sense. Today however, we're going to be looking at two words that sound nothing alike and yet are still frequently confused: irony and coincidence.


It's probably easiest to define coincidence, a term which came to English via the French language. A coincidence is generally defined as "a remarkable concurrence of unconnected events or circumstances". For example, on a recent trip to Paris we stepped out of a metro car to discover that we had been seated next to a friend from England for several minutes - given that the friend neither lives in nor frequents Paris, it certainly was remarkable that we happened to see him at all, let alone in the same car, on the same metro, on the same line, at the same time, on the same day...


This rock formation is also irony, but in a completely different way.
Then there's irony, which made its way into English from the Greek term εἰρωνεία. If you've been using the famous song "Ironic" by Alanis Morrissette in order to help you remember what irony is, you should definitely stop doing so. While many people often confuse irony with coincidence, it actually refers to saying the opposite of what you mean, generally to emphasize it or make it more humorous. One example of irony would be someone telling their dinner host that they didn't enjoy their meal despite having asked for seconds and clearing every last speck of food from their plate.

As you can see, both the definitions and spellings of these two words are very dissimilar, so hopefully you will be able to get them right in the future!

Do you have a linguistic pet peeve that we haven't covered before? Let us know in the comments below, and we might look at it in the future.