Is That Irony Or Coincidence?

irony or coincidence

Many writers and speakers are confused about whether something is irony or coincidence. They both involve a relationship between constructed or real-life events but the two are, in fact, totally different.

Irony is a device used in literature and in spoken language. There are various types of irony. The type that tends to be confused with coincidence is known as situational irony.

In literature, writers often create situations that set up a contrast – sometimes humorous, but often quite dark and satirical – between two concepts or situations. The contrast tends to highlight the difference between what would normally be expected to happen and what really does happen.

Writers of fiction deliberately construct these situations but they also happen naturally in everyday life.

Coincidence is also a feature of everyday life. A coincidence happens when two separate and unrelated events take place at the same time – especially if their occurrence seems unexpected or unusual.

A coincidence is not necessarily – in fact, not usually – ironic.

Is it irony or coincidence? What’s the difference?

These situations show the difference quite clearly:

Situation 1

a) Two friends separately buy new cars. They meet to show off their purchases and, even though they had not discussed what they would buy, both cars are steel blue sports cars with silver trim and black upholstery.

That’s coincidence; it’s a surprise but there’s no irony – just the same type of car.

b) Two friends shop for cars separately because they often joke about having such vastly different tastes that it would be pointless to go out looking together. Both buy the same type of car.

That’s irony; no one would have expected people with vastly different tastes to like the same thing. It also happens to be a coincidence.

Situation 2

a) Two people come home from a night out and discover both have lost their keys and are unable to get into their house; that would be a coincidence.

b) They both happen to be locksmiths and their tools are inaccessible, as the toolboxes are inside the locked house; that would be irony.

Situation 3

a) Two strangers, Jeanne and George, start to chat at a party. Jeanne tells George she thinks her husband is being unfaithful. George says, ‘I think my wife is having an affair, too. That’s really ironic’.

No, George, it’s just a coincidence that you both have reason to feel that way.

b) Later in the evening, their suspicions are confirmed when someone reveals that the secret lover of George’s wife is Jeanne’s husband.

Now, George, that’s ironic!

And finally ….

One of my personal encounters with irony is particularly memorable.

Years ago, while in a language learning area, I was able to hear a teacher addressing a class. The words were expressed loudly and determinedly:

You need to remember how important it is to get your pronounciation right!

And yes, spelling and pronunciation aside, that’s ironic.

Coincidences are random and unrelated; irony has a twist that raises an unexpected but oddly relevant relationship between two ideas or events.

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