Irony vs. Coincidence

What’s the difference?

Photo by Lucas Gallone on Unsplash

A coincidence is when two unlikely activities share similarities. A simple example of coincidence is if you and your friend meet up and you are wearing the same shirt. Coincidence can sometimes be difficult to explain as they happen entirely as a result of chance. For example, two classmates who were not in touch with each other, run into each other at an airport after ten years later.

It is a coincidence when you meet a stranger who has the same tattoo as you, or see a picture of a stranger who looks just like you.

Coincidence is often confused with situational irony, which is when the end of a situation is VERY different than what you would expect.

Irony refers to something happening or something said about someone or some situation where the underlying meaning is the exact opposite of the literal meaning. Irony can be defined in many other ways, but this is one of the most accepted ways to define it and describe it.

Irony has been differentiated into the 4 following types:

  • Verbal irony refers to a person saying something which is supposed to mean exactly the opposite of what is being said. It typically sounds a lot like sarcasm. Example: A tourist exclaiming at the heap of trash bags in downtown Manhattan that he has never seen anything as wonderful as that. Or someone stepping out into a hurricane and saying, “What nice weather we’re having!”
  • Dramatic irony refers to the audience knowing something which at least one of the characters in the play does not know. This is the type of irony that makes us want to yell and TV shows and movies to “Don’t go in there!” or “No, she is evil!” For example, In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knew that Juliet was not dead when Romeo found her. She was unconscious, but Romeo could not and did not know that.
  • Tragic irony is a type of dramatic irony where the audience is fully aware of what is going to happen and watches it unfold. The outcome of the action is tragic and the audience knows it and has to go through it without being able to do anything about it. To continue using Romeo and Juliet, Romeo kills himself thinking Juliet was already dead, and Juliet stabs herself after finding him to be dead.
  • Situational Irony is a modern term where something happens and its result is very unexpected. For example, a fire truck catching fire or a hairdresser having a bad hair day.

So, what is the point? Why do writers use irony as a tool? Irony inverts our expectations. It can create the unexpected twist at the end of a joke or a story that gets us laughing — or crying. Verbal irony tends to be funny; situational irony can be funny or tragic; and dramatic irony is often tragic.

Examples of Irony:

  • Situational irony in The Gift of the Magi: In this short story by O. Henry, a wife sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain, and her husband sells his watch to buy her combs for her hair. Both have made sacrifices in order to buy gifts for one another, but in the end, the gifts are useless. The real gift is how much they are willing to give up to show their love for one another.
  • A novel’s heroine visits her favorite café every day at11 am to work on her manuscript. Her brother’s best friend knows this and is trying to find a way to ask her out on a date. The day he gets up the courage to go to the café, she’s not there. Where is she? The reader knows she’s been taken ill, he does not. Now, a healthy dose of suspense is added to the plot.
  • A woman thinks her boyfriend is going to break up with her because he has been distance and weird lately. He asks her to meet him “to talk” and she expects the worst. However, when she gets there, he is proposing. He had been distant and weird because of plans and nerves.
  • Tragic irony in Macbeth by William Shakespeare: Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan, but he is actually plotting his murder. Duncan doesn’t know Macbeth’s plans, but the audience knows what is going to happen.
  • An ambulance driver speeds to the scene of a road accident. The victim isn’t badly hurt until the ambulance driver whips around a corner and runs over the victim’s legs, not realizing she’d crawled to the center of the road.
  • Someone posted a video on YouTube about how boring and useless YouTube is.
  • Calling a large person “Tiny.”

It would be ironic if you misused the word “irony” when sharing this amazing article.

It would be coincidence if you just so happened to be wondering what “irony” meant when you saw my article pop up in your feed.

Have a great example? Let’s see it!


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