O ironic. It seems that people now use it in place of coincidental or even to describe completely unrelated occurrences. During a recent baseball game an announcer said, "And isn't it ironic that the Goodyear blimp is here, because both of these teams are having good years." That one would have had O. Henry turning in his grave, I think. Do you have any guidelines on the use of the word?
When people are being ironic, they are saying something other than, or even contrary to, what their words mean literally. ("When I overheard my co-worker compare me to the Goodyear blimp, it made my day.") When occurrences are ironic, they haven't turned out in the way that might have been expected: if the Goodyear name had appeared in the sky above a game whose teams were both having bad years, therefore, there would be some excuse for calling that ironic. But note that an ironic event shouldn't be just improbable or incongruous -- the difference between expectation and reality must have something to do with "vanity," "folly," or human "inconsistency," in the words of The American Heritage Dictionary. So it wouldn't be ironic if the blimp was scheduled to appear at the game but didn't because of a pelting rain. But it would be ironic if the game was called after the blimp's pilot had risked life and limb to get to the ballpark despite the weather.
IThe installation artist John Adams, who is married to the poet Sally Brown, said recently that the state of arts funding in New York has become dismal in recent years." I'm wondering about the the that precedes the person's occupation. I've noticed that this construction is used only when the writer is referring to certain occupations. One theory I have is that it is used by convention to dignify these occupations, and by implication it denigrates others when it is not used. For example, one will see "the sociologist Dr. Peter Jackson" but very rarely "the lawyer Susan Johnson," and never "the accountant Alex Smith." And one will also never see any of the trades referred to in this way: "the cement finisher Bill Collins," "the garbage collector Mike Thompson." What light can you shed on this? My instinct is to say that this construction betrays a certain classism, but I leave such lofty conclusions up to you.