Cole Moreton: Can't take a joke? It's just a bit of fun, m'lud

Our writer tells Elton John why irony is worth fighting for
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The Independent Online

Sir Elton John has a very good sense of humour. Always poking fun at himself. Such a calm and understanding chap. Psst, reader... you may think this is irony. Just between us, strictly hush hush, you might be right. Keep it under your Versace titfer, though, because irony is not something Sir Elton gets.

Money – now that is something his lawyers get plenty of, as they are sent into battle yet again on behalf of the man with the diamond-encrusted ego. But their attempts to sue for libel after the waspish Guardian columnist Marina Hyde wrote a spoof diary in Sir Elton's name ended in defeat on Friday, when Mr Justice Tugendhat agreed that no reasonable reader could have taken the words at face value.

Hyde – writing as Sir Elton – made over-the-top confessions about his annual White Tie and Tiara ball which had better not be repeated here in case Messrs Carter-Ruck go to the Court of Appeal, win and take us to the cleaners. Suffice to say that, in a whopping 17-page judgment – well, he had to earn his wad too, Elton's not the only one with a wig bill, only joshing your honour – the judge said: "The transparently false attribution is irony. Irony is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used."

So it's official: irony exists in law and we can all hide behind it with impunity. Hurrah! Fluck and Law can dust down the Spitting Image puppets. Ian Hislop can allow Private Eye to be funny again. "In satire," as Northrop Frye said, "irony is militant." Or it should be. Now where we? Oh yes.

That Elton John sure can take a joke. And Gordon Brown, what a cheeky chappy, for ever having a laugh. The police? Always get their man. The right man. Down on the floor. Bullet to the head. Never miss. Never wrong.

More, you say? The Royal Family – worth every penny. Eoghan off The X Factor – not an annoying little brat. (Actually, irony can only be stretched so far.) Good game, this, isn't it?

But we'll get in a hole if we carry on, because you'll start to assume the opposite of everything I say. So don't give me all your money. Don't buy 10 copies of the paper. See? It's a tangle. Easy to imagine how Elton got his metaphorical Dolce & Gabbana bloomers in a mess. In the topsy-turvy world of a pop diva, in which water is what you put in your swimming pool and Cristal is a drink, "Ironic" is a song by Alanis Morissette.

You know, the one frequently held up as conclusive proof that Americans don't do irony. "A black fly in your Chardonnay ... like rain on your wedding day. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?" No, love. Not at all. Inconvenient, maybe, but nothing for Mr Justice Tugendhat to get involved in.

As the comedian Ed Byrne says: "The only ironic thing about that song is that it's called 'Ironic' and it's written by a woman who doesn't understand what irony is." Ha, stupid irony-free Yanks, eh? But get this – Alanis is Canadian. Not American at all. Isn't that ironic? Er ... send for the judge. After all, you can always trust the British legal system to deliver the right result. No irony there. Oh no. Not at all.