i·ron·ic (ī-rŏnĭk) also i·ron·i·cal (ī-rŏnĭ-kəl)
1. Characterized by or constituting irony.
2. Given to the use of irony.
3. Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended: madness, an ironic fate for such a clear thinker.
4. Usage Problem Coincidental or improbable.
Usage Note: In its nonliterary uses, irony refers to an incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs, especially if what actually occurs seems designed to thwart or mock human wishes. For example, in the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, the incongruity exemplifies human inconsistency. This sentence was approved by 92 percent of Usage Panelists in our 2016 survey. Sometimes, people misapply ironic, irony, and ironically to events and circumstances that might better be described as simply coincidental or improbable, with no particular lessons about human vanity or presumption. Resistance to such uses remains strong. In 1987, 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejected In 1967, Susan moved from Ithaca to California, where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York. In 2016, this same sentence was still rejected by 63 percent, though some Panelists noted that it might be acceptable in the right context: if Susan had moved to California to get away from New Yorkers, the irony could lie in the the folly of supposing we can know what fate has in store for us.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.