What’s an oxymoron?

Richard Watson Todd:

“The true beauty of oxymorons,” says Richard Watson Todd, “is that, unless we sit back and really think, we happily accept them as normal English.” Todd illustrates his point with the following passage:

It was an open secret  that the company had used a paid volunteer  to test the plastic glasses. Although they were made using liquid gas  technology and were an original copy  that looked almost exactly like a more expensive brand, the volunteer thought that they were pretty ugly and that it would be simply impossible  for the general public to accept them. On hearing this feedback, the company board was clearly confused and there was a deafening silence.  This was a minor crisis  and the only choice was to drop the product line.
(Much Ado About English, 2006)

Author’s Note:  A couple of years ago, I was visiting my son in Washington D.C.  He wanted me to cook some real southern cornbread, so I went to the store but all they had was low-fat buttermilk.  I complained to the store clerk that low-fat buttermilk was an oxymoron.  The natural born Yank just blinked at me.


10 thoughts on “What’s an oxymoron?

  1. Word is derived from Greek oxy = sharp, moros = foolish

    How about “sweet sorrow” “military intelligence” 🙂

    Liquid gas doesn’t really bother me because we’re talking about one state of gas. How about ANY phrase using the word “virtually” And what about that oft-used phrase FALSE PRETENSE? . If pretense is a false claim, isn’t a false false claim, the truth?

    Food for thought…isn’t that an oxymoronic phrase???

    • Now, you’ve boggled my mind. I willing to bet that you won’t find that many outside the English language. If there’s one thing Americans are good at it’s slang and odd phrases. Another side of freedom of speech, I guess, the right to confuse outsiders. I was thinking about the phrase tone-deaf. You’re either deaf or you ain’t deaf. We know what it means, but what would an alien make of it?

      • I always think about how we say “the alarm went off” when we mean it went on. Who starts these things, and why do they catch on? Imagine explaining that to a group of people with limited English.

    • Of course you could just translate an English oxymoron into another language and that’s that, but perhapa you need to find ones that SEEM funny in another language, but in any event…

      The slang term for abortionist in German is perhaps a bit oxymoronic–Engelmacher (angel-maker) How about some other English oxymorons? (and these are listed only for their humorous meanings!) “female rationaiity” “male sensitivity” “neutral point of view” Is the expression “fire-water” an oxymoron?

      • Well, humph. I’ll have you know that I happen to be very logical. If people deem me irrational that’s because they don’t see it my way–and that’s verbatim what I told my friend Casper.

        And I would add: Men are the sensitivity creatures, they just hide it by reacting violently, as in: You didn’t hurt my feeling, babe. I’m just bashing your head in because I’m the macho type. It has nothing to do with my inferiority complex.

        But I do like firewater! 🙂

      • A literal translation wouldn’t work. Most of the time it would be gibberish in the other language. I’m more interested in oxymorons that are actual words or phrases in use in that language (which would most likely be gibberish when translated into English, so we’d have to have a human who speaks both languages explain them).

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