Remember Alanis Morrisette’s 1995 song, in which she lists a whole bunch of unfortunate things and for each one asks “Isn’t it ironic?” None of the things she sang about was ironic, not in the least, and scores of educated people who understood the meaning of irony railed about it. Standup comics wrote extended and very funny bits about how little irony the song contained.
Flash back yet further to 1981, to the release of Paradise Theater by Styx. The second single off the album was “Too Much Time on My Hands.” Here’s the opening lyric:
Yeah, I’m sitting on this bar stool, talking like a damn fool,
Got the twelve o’clock news blues.
And I’ve given up hope for the afternoon soaps
And a bottle of cold brew.
Is it any wonder I’m not crazy?
Is it any wonder I’m sane at all?
I’m sure you see the problem in this. Here’s a guy, being driven mad with boredom. It’s surprising that he’s not crazy; i.e. it is a wonder that he is not crazy. You’re supposed to ask “Is it any wonder that…?” when what is happening would naturally be expected, when it is not a surprise. If he were doing it right, he should be asking, “Is it any wonder that I am crazy?” The answer to the question should be, “No, that is not a wonder.” So, he’s using this turn of phrase incorrectly.
The whole song runs this way, and thus the whole song drove me pretty much insane.
Being a faithful Styx fan, I wanted to like the song. And it was a hit on radio and TV, so I couldn’t escape it if I tried.
Thus, I had to come up with a way to deal with these problematic lyrics without breaking my mind.
What I did was this: Every time Tommy Shaw sang “is it any wonder?” I made myself hear it as “isn’t it a wonder?” — swapping in words that were close enough that he could possibly be singing them, but flipping the logic so it worked.
I’m so tired of losing, I’ve got nothing to do
And all day to do it.
So I go out cruising but I’ve no place to go
And all night to get there.
Isn’t it a wonder I’m not a criminal?
Isn’t it a wonder I’m not in jail?
Amazing, no? This was such a relief to my logic-obsessed 10th grade brain.
And the thing is: The reason I was able to come up with this lyrical solution was that I had a lot of time to think about it. That is, I had too much time on my hands.
Isn’t that ironic?