Grammar Moses: Isn't it ironic? I don't think.

  • Singer Alanis Morissette performs at The Paramount in Huntington, New York on Sunday Aug. 26, 2012.

    Singer Alanis Morissette performs at The Paramount in Huntington, New York on Sunday Aug. 26, 2012. Invision/AP

Updated 11/21/2021 4:41 PM

It was a little over 26 years ago that Alanis Morissette's groundbreaking "Jagged Little Pill" album was released. I imagine it's been 25 years and 364 days that grammar nerds have been picking on her for the lyrics of "Ironic," the album's third or fourth single.

I vote that the mockery should end here. Show me a rock star who hasn't abused the language to some degree, and I'll eat my hat.


I'm speaking figuratively, of course. That's not the kind of fiber I need in my diet.

If you're unfamiliar with the song, here is one verse:

"A traffic jam when you're already late

A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break

It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife

It's meeting the man of my dreams

And then meeting his beautiful wife

And isn't it ironic ... don't you think?"

Not a whiff of irony here, despite protestations by some that these are examples of "situational irony."

I don't buy it. I doubt too many zillion-selling songwriter/singers are reading this. And I doubt that many of us who are reading this are particularly solid on the concept of irony.

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But my job is to clarify, so here goes.

The song is about frustration born of bad timing, poor planning and stinging coincidence.

What would be ironic is if Alanis had gotten a job at Philip Morris on the cigarette production line and found a no-smoking sign in the break room.

If I'm reading the company's rules correctly, employees may smoke in private offices but not on the production floor or in common areas. Ironic, indeed.

It would have been ironic if Alanis had a job at the Wusthof knife factory and found only spoons in the lunchroom.

Irony is defined as a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects -- and is often amusing as a result.

I know a former co-worker who was enchanted by a woman at a party -- only to learn later that it was his ex-wife.

I'm really not sure what word best describes that.


Alanis has endured much ridicule over the years, even hinting that what is ironic is that a song titled "Ironic" is bereft of irony.

She even appeared on "The Late Late Show" five years ago to sing a duet with host James Corden in which the lyrics to "Ironic" were contemporized. It included her singing the line "Singing 'Ironic' when there are no ironies."

She did so with a wry smile and a voice as sweet as ever.

Save for

"While reading many e-books, some authors use 'save' when referring to what I believe to be an exception," wrote reader Ed Crygier. "They might use 'He bought all the stock, save the kitchen sink.' Is that a European thing, reserved for novelists, or just old school?"

Ed, I use "save for" often, but I also use "groovy" quite a bit, even though I was in short pants when that word was in vogue.

Many people find "save for" archaic, but it is on the rise in the book world in comparison to "except for."

If the trend lines continue as they have since 1958, when "except for" was at its zenith, "save for" could be the dominant phrase again by about 2050.

And a doddering old me will be telling everyone who will listen that I've been a trendsetter all of my life.

And that will be groovy.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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