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I recently attended a police station in order to represent a client for an offence involving violence. The interviewing police officer was a former school friend whom I had not seen for around 40 years. He/she described the meeting as ‘ironic’. Actually it wasn’t! It was coincidental.

Coincidence and irony are perhaps two of the most easily confused abstract nouns in the English language. This is because irony is tinged with coincidence and coincidence is tinged with irony!

From a purely grammatical perspective, the situation has become even more confusing; firstly because, strictly speaking, irony is a literary device that should not be used to describe real events, but secondly because of the modern usage of ‘situational irony’. A fire engine catching fire would be a good example of this. Therefore, the exact opposite of what you would expect, in a literal sense.

The meeting with my school friend would have been ironic if he/she had been the school bully, with a predilection to resort to violence, in order to resolve disputes! He/she wasn’t by the way!

For those of you who like your history, a good example of irony is World War 1 being described as the ‘war to end war’. I will leave the distinction between irony and sarcasm for another time!

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