An oxymoron is an expression that contains words with opposite meanings; sometimes, like idiot savants, we use them without even realizing how clearly confusing they might be, or how seriously funny they might sound to others.
Having friends around the world, I’m quite aware of cultural issues; for instance, British fashion might sound like an oxymoron to a French designer, while French deodorant might sound like one to the Brit. There are the usual internationally recognized oxymorons like good airline food, or train schedule, and then there are locally-limited ones such as funky white guy that might not make any sense to someone from the African continent. A divorcee might think that marital bliss is an oxymoron, but then I’ve been married nearly 20 years and I can confirm that it is NOT a contradiction in terms. Comfortably dressed might seem an oxymoron to a nudist colony, and Wall Street might think that business ethics is a tragic comedy. Calm wind may sound like a contradiction, but I’ve spent enough time along the northern coast of Scotland to confirm that wind can indeed seem calm… anything less than gale-force winds would suffice on that count.
But it’s the universally understood oxymorons that are the most fun, such as military intelligence or Arabian democracy, government organization or industrial park. How many times have you been alone together with a friend and heard them say, “Just act naturally” as someone you’re attracted to walks by… when you’d rather be whispering bittersweet nothings in their ear? Have you ever gained weight after having a lite beer? Yep. Ditto for diet ice-cream, non-alcoholic beer or non-alcoholic wines. Some oxymorons are clearly ambiguous, while others are an exact estimate of feelings, such as acute dullness, feeling almost exactly like a cowardly lion or an unsung hero. Groucho Marx proved that educational television is not necessarily an oxymoron; he said, “I find television very educational; every time someone turns it on, I go into another room and read a book.”
And don’t even get me started about politics: Do you have fun at a political party? What about moral majority – they took God out of society and must now live with the consequences; moral has never been majority, but rather the discriminated minority, in my unbiased opinion. And there will never truly be united nations – I’ve lived smack in the middle of Europe for 25 years and have watched the EU decay from idealistic dreams to cooking the books just to stay afloat. There’s really no such thing as modern history, holy wars, conservative liberals, socialist market economies, humanitarian invasions, peace force, peace offensive, or peacekeeper missiles, though sometimes I get the impression that criminal justice is more alive and well in America than is common sense.
There are some oxymorons that sound accurate, but using the term non-working mother may land you in the emergency ward through a display of passive aggression! And how many know the truth of the oxymoron Microsoft Works? Now then: Old news, near miss, extensive briefing, advanced basics, even odds, federal budget, free trade, friendly fire, homeland security, paid volunteers, least favourite and software documentation… our lives are permeated with them.
I’m terribly pleased that I’m a private citizen with a home office, but working holidays are a virtual reality in such a situation, as the line between work and private life is obviously obscured. I don’t miss facing all those rolling stops of rush hour, though I’m vaguely aware of the deafening silence of Tinnitus more when I’m home alone. I call it a qualified success when I’ve managed to do a bit of writing, cleaning, editing, cooking and blogging in a day. I can listen to music, whether soft rock, light rock, instant classics, rap music, or rock opera, and I’m the uncrowned queen of dancing with my cats.
Some oxymorons just make me shake my head in sympathetic pain: There are actually those who somehow think that non-dairy creamer is either dairy, cream, or a wholesome substitute, when I think they’re rather dangerously safe at best, and misanthropic humanitarianism at worst. One should never be deliberately thoughtless when it comes to genuine imitation nutrition; when vitamins and minerals are found missing, it can’t be healthy; it may even lead to a great depression! And what is it with “masterpiece of evolution”? Follow that to its logical conclusion.
What about those who feel intense apathy or feel clearly misunderstood, or second best? And is ill health the same difference as good grief? Cheerleading scholarship? Really? Is there ever real potential for a minor crisis? Either it is or it isn’t. And how many have experienced the headache of trying to open a childproof container as an adult? It’s a minor miracle to open some of them.
I could go on and on ad infinitum – that’s why I love the English language! There are so many glorious contradictions – almost as many as there are people with different perspectives! So let’s organize a friendly takeover of the English language, reclaiming ground lost to the insipidity of poor grammar, apathetic vocabulary and lazy spelling!
If you’ve got any more great oxymorons, please let us know in a comment below! Happy hunting!
21 responses to “The Silent Scream of Oxymorons”
thanks, that you put your focus so elaborated on this topic! Like oxymoron the term paradox often came into my mind…
Oxymorons and paradoxes make the world a brighter, more interesting place! 🙂
Vegetarian chile con carne???
That’s a good one! 🙂
This may be an older post but it was in the box which said she liked your post, look at the 3 choices. 🙂 I love wordplays and was very excited about how many oxymorons you cane up with and they made me Smile! ~ Robin
Glad you liked it! Old post, old schpost – language never gets old, does it? 😉
There’s some great British fashion, how dare they! Seriously though I agree language is fascinating, what also interests me is the way people begin using the same phrases online, like cultural copycats
Oxymorons do make for entertaining reading online, don’t they! Especially when people use them without actually stopping to think about the consequences… 😉
Thank you! 🙂
Years ago, I read that the English language is one of the hardest to master and understand; your post pointed out one of the many reasons why. And it was very entertaining…I smiled the entire time I was reading.
Thank you! What a great compliment!
You might also like the article on Mark Twain’s commentary about the German language (just search his name on this page)…
You’re most welcome. 🙂
I read and did like. Thanks!
Finally! Someone who clearly loves the English language ‘almost exactly’ as much as I do! Great post!
Thank you! And welcome to my writing pad! 😉
This was a great post! I was in the middle of writing a essay about oxymorons then I came across your post. It definitely helped me a lot. At first i was thinking ‘why does my english teacher hate me’ but your post makes me not hate her that much. Thanks
Thank you! Anything I can do to make English teachers more understood, the better. 😉 You’re welcome – enjoy the idiosyncrasies of this amazing language!
P.S. Feel free to quote passages from the article – just give your teacher my website as reference – they might enjoy more of my articles, too. 😉