I read quite a bit of feedback and writing on a daily basis, from moderating forums to emails to blogs, and there are two word misuses that top my list of minor annoyances:

1. Ironic.

2. Tragedy.

Just as quick review, in case your mom wasn’t as diligent about English as mine was…

1. Ironic is the opposite of what was intended. For some reason, folks use it as a synonym for coincidence. As George Carlin pointed out, a diabetic getting hit by a truck is an accident. A diabetic getting hit by a sugar truck is poetic coincidence. A diabetic getting hit by an insulin truck – now that’s irony!

2. Tragedy isn’t something sorrowful or disastrous. We have words for that – sorrowful and disastrous. In its original form, tragedy is a specific calamity that’s the direct result of a character flaw, usually hubris. A death isn’t tragic unless the person brought it on themselves through a character flaw that led them to die. An airplane crash isn’t tragic unless the pilot, in his hubris, was saying in the cockpit, “I’m such a good pilot I can fly blindfolded! See?

Does anyone care about the misuse of these terms? Besides standup comedians (we miss you, Mr. Carlin), probably not. However, when I’m reading (particularly blogs and web sites of prospective future employees or other folks who I’m asked to evaluate), you certainly accrue bonus points if you’re using the language well.


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