Like, there’s no irony

For some time now I’ve had a backup idea, a column-writing safety net of sorts. That is to say with a blank screen in front of me, a rapidly approaching deadline, and no subject on the horizon I’ve always had one in reserve. And today is the day I use it.

Peter Matthews

I don’t mind songs with crazy lyrics; songwriters have often conceived their compositions in variously altered mental states and the outpouring of consciousness can often be hard to decipher. David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ for instance, ‘loves chimney stacks’ for no apparent reason other than a handy rhyme.

What I do object to is incorrect lyrics: Whether the error be grammatic, syntactic, or factual there is no excuse other than ignorance, and as a university lecturer once told me, that is no excuse at all.

Alanis Morissette, for example, considers ‘rain on your wedding day’ to be ironic. This is not ironic, it is simply unfortunate. I confess I have always found irony to be a slippery concept – it comes in many forms and can trip you up. The official meaning of irony is ‘the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.’ Alanis goes on to list a further example; ‘a free ride when you’ve already paid’. Yup, she can have that one; it’s not a concept described ironically, more just a statement of the situation but it’s an ironic situation nonetheless – isn’t it? Perhaps a grey area.

Not so grey is Rod Stewart singing ‘holding up for prosperity for the whole damn world to see’. He simply got the wrong word – it should have been ‘posterity’. Although there is (I think) a delightful irony in that mistake, since the inarguable result of him singing the song ‘I Was only Joking’ was indeed prosperity.

Now for the big one: In the 1973 hit ‘Live and Let Die’ Paul McCartney sang ‘in this ever-changing world in which we live in’. This was reflected in the original sheet music for the song and is a clanger of epic proportions: At least one, if not two superfluous ‘ins’ depending on how you read it.

A more recent representation of this lyric is ‘if this ever-changing world in which we’re living’ which is perfectly fine. McCartney himself, in an interview with the Washington Post said he doesn’t really pay much attention to how he sings it and it could be either but the former seems ‘wronger but cuter’ which of course compounds the initial crime.

Fortunately none of this is important. The word ‘like’ is misused countless times a day by almost everyone with very little negative consequence, and I have just taken up a couple of your minutes for no good reason other than a temporary diversion from your day. I hope you don’t think it was a waste of time, and I hope your day continues well. Now I shall have to see about coming up with another backup column subject.

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