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It is well-known that "irony" is one of the most abused words in the English language. The (main) definitions are:

  1. Expressing the opposite of literal meaning through subtext
  2. Incongruity between an actual result and the expected result

Examples of some general cases where irony is misused (off the top of my head; there are many more):

  • Calling attention to a discrepancy: "I hate A, B, and C. Ironically, I am well aware that I myself am guilty of C."
  • Creating a discrepancy: "I disliked it, but, ironically, it was the best movie I have ever seen."
  • Generic, filler adverb: "Ironically, I couldn't care less."
  • A situation where something has its opposite natural effect: "The ambulance ironically ran over the cat."

However, I have yet to find a resource suggesting alternatives for such colloquial uses. In particular, there are situations (like the above) that variants of "ironic" are used for that don't seem to have clear-cut substitutes.

Let's look at that vexing last one about ambulances and cats. The ambulance did indeed run over the cat, so it's not definition 1. Yet, it's not quite an incongruity between an actual result and an expected result, since no alternative expected result is given or implied. There doesn't seem to be a simple way to describe such a happenstance--except, by consensus, by abusing "irony".

The above situations (I'm pretty sure; don't hurt me) are not ironic by the dictionary definitions. But, the word "irony" is filling a semantic gap that doesn't seem to be solvable another way.

The above particular examples aren't individually important. Instead, I'm looking for an exhaustive list of situations where "irony" is abused along with corresponding correct terms for those situations. To this effect, I'm adding a community wiki answer below.

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    This is a non-constructive question on the main site as well, so I'm not going to migrate it. – simchona Mar 16 '13 at 2:42
  • Blech, didn't realize I was on the meta site. But how is it non-constructive? First, it is a common issue. Second, I opened it as a community wiki instead of a direct question, since the phrasing and nature of the problem are not amenable to a single answer. By StackExchange rules, this is a valid question format. – imallett Mar 16 '13 at 4:41
  • Stack Exchange sites are not good places to ask for "an exhaustive list" of anything - such questions will get closed pretty much anywhere on the network. – EnergyNumbers Mar 18 '13 at 7:30
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The following attempts to be an exhaustive list of misuses of the word "irony", along with suggestions for better usage. Please add on/expand, improve, and make corrections.

  • Calling attention to a discrepancy:
    • Example: "I hate A, B, and C. Ironically, I am well aware that I myself am guilty of C."
    • Semantics: There's a discrepancy or contrast that needs to be brought to light. True irony would leave it unstated, but here we're trying to point it out.
    • Resolution: Something like "Hypocritically" is closest in direct meaning for the above case, but it doesn't quite cut it. Anyway, a general solution?
  • Creating a discrepancy:
    • Example: "I disliked it, but, ironically, it was the best movie I have ever seen."
    • Semantics: We're trying to put two things without a preexisting discrepancy into some opposing relationship.
    • Resolution: "admittedly", "despite", "in contrast"?
  • Generic, filler adverb:
    • Example: "Ironically, I couldn't care less."
    • Semantics: Emphasis or sarcasm
    • Resolution: "In actuality,", "To be blunt", but these don't quite capture the wry self-satisfaction that would typically accompany the above sentence. Maybe just don't use filler words, also?
  • A situation where something has its opposite natural effect:
    • Example: "The ambulance ironically ran over the cat."
    • Semantics: Something happened, however the contrast isn't between an actual and an expected result but between something and its normal function/purpose. It's a shade of meaning, but I think it's enough to make it technically non-ironic.
    • Resolution: ?

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