Reading this New York Times article about Mash, I came across this phrase:

Some guy in charge of programming said, “What is this, a situation tragedy?”

Does "situation tragedy" make sense? Does it fit the phrase? I can make sense of it:

"What is this, a tragic situation?"

  • 4
    Strictly, the title of the film and series is written, typed, or printed as M*A*S*H Sep 17, 2022 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


The expression is a variation of the well-known phrase 'situation comedy", which means 'a television or radio series in which the same set of characters are involved in various amusing situations'.

The CBS TV network was worried about a situation comedy set in a military hospital in a war zone, because they feared that the viewing public would not like to see situations in which people were visibly wounded, or in which they died.

When a network manager saw a script, as the article says, in which a character is severely wounded, and then dies on the operating table, he or she sarcastically asked: 'What is this, a situation tragedy?'. This would be, we may suppose, 'a television or radio series in which the same set of characters are involved in various sad or upsetting situations'.

  • When I clicked on the link, it didn't work. Article is a bit vague, it could be from any newspaper that you forgot to mention. I'll ignore the sarcasm.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 17, 2022 at 15:36
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA - NYT articles are behind a paywall, but in Google Chrome on Windows, you can go to the main page, and holding down the WIN and (left) ALT keys, click on the link/headline, and you will be offered a download of that article, which you can save locally as an html file wich you can read in the same, or any other, browser. This works for a lot of paywalled sites. Sep 17, 2022 at 15:43
  • 1
    I have a subscription, when I clicked on the naked link, it was broken. It led to a page where NYT apologised for the missing article. Maybe the link was working for you but it wasn't for me. Good tip for users who face paywalls by the way.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 17, 2022 at 15:48
  • @Mari-LouA - works in Microsoft Edge on Windows 10 also. Not Firefox, though, on my system. Sep 17, 2022 at 15:54
  • On Mac Safari here with a good ad-blocker, I can just see the article linked in the OP straight away, no paywall. Sep 18, 2022 at 12:27

MASH falls into a category of television shows called situation comedy (abbreviated as sitcom).

What is this, a situation tragedy?

A comedy is a humorous story with a happy ending. The opposite of a comedy is a tragedy, which is a serious story with a not-so-happy ending. So your example is a play on words by the author, suggesting that the end result is sad rather than happy.

It's not something you would typically read or use in every day English.


It would need a very specific context for situation tragedy to be considered an acceptable collocation.

The same kind of noun adjunct usage is well established in, for example, kitchen sink drama (where the noun kitchen sink identifies a specific sub-category of drama). Note that in context, a situation comedy would be understood (a comedy TV program, play, or film where the humour primarily arises from some unusual / amusing situation).

It's worth pointing out that strictly speaking a situation tragedy is "oxymoronic" (juxtaposes two incompatible elements)...

What is Tragedy? (literaryterms.net)
Tragedy is a genre of story in which a hero is brought down by his/her own flaws, usually by ordinary human flaws – flaws like greed, over-ambition, or even an excess of love, honor, or loyalty.

If it's the situation that brings misfortune, it's not really "tragedy". That might be part of the reason situation tragedy has little to no currency. Also note that some "purists" don't even like this kind of noun adjunct usage of situation anyway - they prefer the explicitly adjectival form situational comedy (which we can't do with idiomatic kitchen sink drama, because kitchen sink doesn't have an explicitly adjectival form!).

Also note that no-one would seriously object to the default "adjective + noun" form a tragic situation simply because of the above (primarily, literary) definition. The meaning of tragic in normal contexts extends far beyond a specific sub-category of ancient Greek drama.

  • Finally an answer instead of a comment! :3 :P Good answer!
    – DialFrost
    Sep 18, 2022 at 13:41

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