Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

VERONICA had spent half an hour sheltering from the rain in the greenhouse because I was delayed in letting her into the house by First Great Western (more like Last Great Western). 'Silly girl,' my husband said. 'The back door was open all the time. Ironic, innit?'

He spoke those last two words in what he thinks is an amusing Estuary accent. For he and I and most people who can read and write have noticed that ironic and ironically are grossly misused, usually to mean odd and oddly.

The other thing that annoys people about ironically (though they may not realise it) is its use as a 'sentence adverb', as linguists like to call these creatures. Sentence adverbs qualify not merely a verb or adjective, but the whole utterance. A well-known example is: 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.' Other such adverbs are sadly, thankfully, luckily and (let us not be sidetracked) hopefully.

Now, quite apart from the controversy over sentence adverbs, I have recently had a revisionist conversion about ironically. Of course irony is straightforwardly ,a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used', for example: 'You are a clever boy!'

But irony means a lot more than that. …

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