Monday, May 5, 2008

Irony: the one word sportswriters should never, ever use

For the past twenty years or so, I've nursed within my heart a small but passionate thirst for vengeance against those who continually misuse the term "irony." Granted, the word itself is difficult to define--many people simply rely upon a Potter Stewart-esque "I know it when I see it" definition. That being said, I have found that sportswriters and announcers are among the most frequent abusers of the term. Too often, they say "ironic" when they should simply say "coincidental." Let's take today's example, from a piece on the tragic Kentucky Derby breakdown of Eight Belles. Take it away, ESPN:

In '06, we had the Barbaro disaster at the Preakness, followed by the long and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save the Derby champion's life. While that was still ongoing, we saw Pine Island's fatal breakdown in the Breeders' Cup Distaff that fall at Churchill Downs. In a savage bit of irony, the Distaff race was won by Round Pond, who was trained by Michael Matz -- the same man who conditioned Barbaro.
Really, what is ironic about that? The winner of one race was trained by the same guy who trained a horse that broke down in another race. That is...coincidental? Is it even a coincidence? I don't even think it's that--it's something approaching an interesting confluence of circumstances, but hardly coincidental, and certainly not ironic.

Please, journalism industry, I'm begging you: send your writers to an Irony for Beginners class. It's the only way I can stay sane.