- From: "DavidW" <no@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2008 10:24:00 +1100
John O'Flaherty wrote:
On Thu, 6 Mar 2008 08:44:59 +1100, "DavidW" <no@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
John O'Flaherty wrote:
I would say that the definitions haven't ruined the usage of the
word, they merely reflect its current state, with some lag. (Unless
you can show that the common usages of "irony" or "ironic" conformed
to your interpretation until the said definitions appeared.)
It's just a theory of mine, but I think a reasonable one. Fowler's
MEU (1st ed.) describes the irony of Fate and its connection with
irony in language, and he emphasizes that irony revolves around a
double meaning, however the word is used. Where do you think this
usage came from?
I haven't a clue, since I don't have that book. As far as I can see,
the definitions for "irony" and "ironic" revolve around dissembling
and incongruity, more than double meaning.
Fowler's explanation is below. This follows his description of irony in
language, which is essentially an utterance with two meanings, one for one
audience (outsiders) and one for another (insiders, because they have inside
knowledge so they understand they underlying meaning).
"And the double audience for the irony of Fate? Nature persuades most of us that
the course of events is within wide limits foreseeable, that things will follow
their usual course, that violent outrage on our sense of the probable or
reasonable need not be looked for; and these "most of us" are the
uncomprehending outsiders; the elect or inner circle with whom Fate shares her
amusement at our consternation are the few to whom it is not an occasional
maxim, but a living conviction, that what happens is the unexpected."
Lexicography has a conservative role to play, by the very fact that
it lags actual usage, which continues evolving, but it shouldn't be
so conservative that its connection to the language becomes ever
You have to keep in mind how lexicographers do their jobs. They read
material and they come across a situation that is described as
ironic and they see again and again that the situation is one in
which what happened was the opposite of what was expected, so that's
what they put in the dictionary. But if in every case the writer
really meant that it was ironic in the sense that it has a double
meaning then the dictionary definition is completely misleading.
It would be hard to show in any case, that any writer intended
something other than the apparent meaning of what they wrote. Even if
the first few writers did, other writers, no cleverer than
lexicographers, would begin to use the meanings apparently intended,
and the meaning shift would be a fait accompli.
Maybe. You are effectively saying that misuse was always inevitable. But I still
think that lexicographers have done a poor job. They are in a position to give
the reader the original intended meaning (if not them then who?), but they have
neglected to do it, so apart from a very brief period at the beginning the
connection with irony is lost. I'm sure there are many people who would be far
more careful in their usage if they knew the connection, if only the dictionary
would tell them.
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