Long-Simmering Dispute Over Alanis Morissette's "Irony" Definition Finally Goes To Court


And by the way, is that stuff actually "slime"? Looks more like goop to me.

It's been a while since we've heard anything from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (ANSWER), but the group's long battle over the right to hang posters in the District of Columbia has led to both greater freedom of speech and linguistic clarity. 

On the first point, ANSWER and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MASF) have been fighting the District over D.C.'s excessive demands for discovery in their case involving the right to hang posters on lampposts. ANSWER was dismissed earlier in the process, but yesterday MASF got a favorable ruling [pdf] from D.C.'s U.S. District Court. Much more importantly, a footnote in Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth's scathing opinion revisits one of the hot topics of the pre-9/11 era: 

Highlighting its own hypocrisy, in a section entitled "Argument," the District asserts—without any real "argument," just a conclusory sentence—that plaintiff failed to meet its burden for a protective order because plaintiff "relie[d] entirely on conclusory statements, with no specific facts or admissible evidence."  Id. 3.  This, in fact, is the definition of irony.4…

4 Contra ALANIS  MORISSETTE,  Ironic, on  JAGGED  LITTLE  PILL  (Maverick Records 1995) (inexplicably defining irony as "rain on your wedding day").

Following the iron law of usage nitpkicking, Lamberth makes a who/whom SNAFU elsewhere in the piece, but readers of a certain age will recognize his correction here as a new wrinkle in an old controversy: that Morissette's song "Ironic" contains a compendious list of items and events, none of which can be defined as "ironic" in the Aristotelian sense. 

I've always been inclined to cut the feisty songstress from the Great White North some generational slack on this point. The nineties were days of adventure and experimentation, when the term "irony" was used to embrace "sarcasm," "unexpectedness," "unintended outcomes" and many other concepts.

Morissette, a known Canadian, may or may not have standing to sue in an American court, and the Supreme Court has declined to decide the question of whether Dave "Cut-it-out" Coulier is the subject of "You oughta know." 

NEXT: Helicopter Parents vs. Free Range Kids: Q&A with "America's Worst Mom" Lenore Skenazy

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  1. There is no iron law of usage nitpicking.

    There is, of course, joe’z law (comments insulting the intelligence of another commenter will tend to have errors in them, e.g., “get a brain, moran!”).

    And RC’z law (typos in comments tend to make the comment funnier, e.g., John’s voluminous volume of work on this site).

    But the Iron Laws are few and enumerated thusly:

    1. You get more of what you reward and less of what you punish.
    2. Money and power will always find each other.
    3. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
    4. The less you know about something, the easier it looks.
    5. You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.
    6. Me today, you tomorrow.
    7. Foreseeable consequences are not unintended.

    Trifle not with the Iron Laws.

    1. I think he was referring to the iron laws ironically.

      1. whoa…

    2. 6. Me today, you tomorrow.

      I am pretty sure that is a Nirvana song.

    3. “get a brain, moran!”

      Pretty sure this a direct quote of me responding to joe back in 2004.

  2. Morissette, a known Canadian, may or may not standing to sue in an American court

    Speaking of pedants, I think something is… missing.

    1. The fact that Morissette has been an American citizen for almost a decade now?

      1. Does that make her any less Canadian?

        1. My guess is that their shared French-Canadian ancestry was the spark that bonded Morissette and Coulier.

    2. Morissette, a known Canadian, may or may not standing to sue in an American court

      Speaking of pedants, I think something is… missing.

      Something is superfluous, that is for sure.

      1. Hmm, I’m having a hard time finding the superfluous word that was left out of that sentence that has since been added in without even a thanks.

  3. “Head over Feet” was her one decent single. I was listening to more Republica than Morrissette in the mid-90s, anyway.

    1. I had a bit of fun with the one that has the chorus where she says “Thank you” to everything. I’d sing it and thank random things. My then-girlfriend was not amused.

      1. “Ready to Go” was testosterone-infused girl rage. Republica and Garbage were the only chick alternative bands that didn’t get all cutesy with the wordplay in their lyrics.

        1. Before you say anything, I’m not forgetting the Breeders, I’m just not including them in the post-Sheryl Crow era feminist wave of alternative rock.

        2. Fun facts: Garbage opened for Alanis Morissette’s tour in 1999.

          Alanis opened for Vanilla Ice in ’91.

          Garbage==Vanilla Ice??

  4. For some reason, Ive always changed one of the lines to:

    Its like 10,000 nickels when all you need is a dime

  5. Tim, poor Tim. You miss the entire irony of the song. The fact that not a single one of her listed “ironies” is actually ironic gives birth to the greatest irony of all: the meta irony.

    1. Alanis started the hipster movement.

  6. it’s like a fork, when all you have is soup.

    1. Which brings up a point I wanted to make. Morissette said it’s “LIKE rain on your wedding day”. That’s a simile, not a definition. And ironically, the judge could have been correct just by quoting one of the other lines that doesn’t use “like”!

  7. Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.

    1. Yeah. Isn’t it ironic.

      1. A little too ironic.

        1. Screw you, you Hitler hipsters!!

          Hyperbole is the new irony

        2. Yeah, I really do think.

  8. when the term “irony” was used to embrace “sarcasm,” “unexpectedness,” “unintended outcomes” and many other concepts.

    Using the pedant purist’s definition, I think sarcasm is a valid form of irony. It achieves the discrepancy between literal and intended meanings that wikipedia tells me is super important to the concept of irony.

    1. Wikipedia is where all the smart kids go for their information, for sure.

      /sarcastic irony

  9. Just The Facts:

    Most people simply do not get irony.

    If you don’t believe us, check the comments.

    After reading this topic, most people will still not get irony

    But they’ll think they will even more than before.

    Then they’ll go out into the internet and disseminate even more false
    information about irony.

    We don’t even know why we’re doing this; we just get a kick out of it

  10. iron law of usage nitpkicking

    That is not RC iron law that is joe’s law.

    Incidentally i now have a plutonium law:

    “Government will never produce a document that supoorts less government.”

  11. Alanis Morissette: “Clearly another woman in dire need of ice cream.”

  12. Also, that “green slime” looks an aweful lot like semen that’s been colored green. Was Nickelodean secretly disguising bukakke vids as children’s entertainment all those years?

    1. It’s funny, you could never make that show today. Kids facing a firing squad in a comedy/kids show? Not a chance.

      1. Uh, that show is actually still on.

        1. Is it still on as in they’re still making new episodes, or do you mean they still show re-runs? I was certain it was canceled years ago, but maybe I just stopped watching after I turned ~12.

          1. Unless I’m thinking of the wrong show, they recently brought it back. Of course they had a lot of shows involving slime so it could be my mistake.

            1. You Can’t Do That on Televison is the show that the screen capture above is from.

              1. Ah, my mistake then. Like I said, too many slime shows.

  13. If most people use irony incorrectly thinking they are using it correctly doesn’t that change its meaning?

    The word “gay” use to mean something different then it does today. “email” use to mean nothing.

    Shouldn’t definitions of words fit their meaning? and not be ironic?

    1. In some old movie a fellow was telling a woman that she looked “good enough to eat” entirely innocently….I think.

    2. You probably think carbon-free organic sugar is a good idea too, don’t you?

      1. carbon-free organic sugar

        I am still pissed the hippies took the word “organic” from the chemists.

    3. The word “gay” use to mean something different then it does today.

      Along the same lines the word “faggot” originally referred to a stick or bundle of small sticks used for starting a fire. So next you go camping, tell everyone you’re with that you’re “going to go find some faggots for the fire” and see what they say.

      1. “Fag” originally refers to a system within British schools is which older students were given charge over younger students.

        The younger student being the older student’s “fag”.

        1. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure some Brits still refer to cigarettes as fags.

          1. You are correct, but then, they are Brits.

          2. Faggot does mean bundle of sticks….which is probably why they call cigarettes fags.

            But the use of calling gay people fags does not come from that directly. It comes from the British school system.

            No idea where the brits got it. Though I imagine before modern heating systems younger students were tasked with keeping the fire places of older students stocked with wood. “Faggot packer” might have been shortened to “fag”.

            1. My high school English teacher said it came from the cigarettes.

              During one of the World wars, while in the UK, gays would put cigarettes behind their as a way of identifying each other.

        2. I hadn’t heard that one before. It’s had several uses over the years so pick you poison on how you want to use to offend and shock by-standers.

          1. Holy shit, apparently they’re also a kind of meatball: Mr. Brain’s faggots. Apparently 100 million faggots are eaten in the UK every year.

  14. “Morissette’s song “Ironic” contains a compendious list of items and events, none of which can be defined as “ironic” in the Aristotelian sense.”

    And how many albums was Aristotle about to sell?

    OK, there was his “Metaphysics,” with the title track –

    I never met a physics that I didn’t like
    But it’s not physics, it’s metaphysics that has me psyched

    But the less said about that the better.

    1. Hey, I think Kant covered that one.

      1. You’re right. He also had his own albums, “Kant Stop Rocking,” featuring “My Schwanzer is a thing in itself, but it’s imperative it get in you.”

        1. Critique of Pure Awesome

  15. When the guy in the crashing plane said “Well, isn’t this nice?” He was being ironic. I always thought the whole song was about that one guy’s statement.

  16. Following the iron law of usage nitpkicking, Lamberth makes a who/whom SNAFU elsewhere in the piece,

    Me: *looking at the array of weapons* So, is this them?

    Cavanaugh: *ahem* Are these they?

    Me: Who talks like that?

  17. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism

    I once had a t-shirt in college saying, “STOP PLATE TECTONICS”

    It was awesome

    1. I like the signs that say END CONSTRUCTION!

      1. I like the sign that says: “Don’t read this sign!”

  18. Dude seems to know what he is talking about. Wow.

  19. Why is that You Can’t Do That On Television kid driving in a car with 4 versions of herself?

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