Friday, 24 April 2015

Who's an oxy-moron?

Greetings everyone!

Following last week's discussion about tautologies, I'd like to talk about the oxy-moron today.

An oxy-moron can be defined as two words with opposite meanings.

I think the first time I knowingly came into contact with an oxy-moron, where I recognised it for what it was, was while I was studying English Literature. I read a poem - I can't even remember the title or the name of the poet - containing an oxy-moron and it stands out in my mind.

The two contradictory words were idle work. Work, by its nature is not idle. Get it? The two words have directly opposite meanings.

Think about some oxy-morons you might come across in every day life.

Here are a few beauties:
  • Bitter sweet
  • Crash landing
  • Civil war
  • Found missing
  • Lead balloon
  • Living dead
  • Recorded live
  • Paper towel
We could go on all day with this because we use oxy-morons all the time and yet, even though each word contradicts the other, we know what they mean when used together. Why do you think that is?

I think the reason why we know what they mean is because they are basically idiomatic. That is to say, each is a specific phrase that is peculiar to a language or dialect.

Here's a terrific idiom story for you. My grandmother, who was Italian, often used to say, all that and everything when she really meant to say both. In Italian, the words tutte e due, is the idiom meaning both. When speaking English, Grandma used to get confused in her translation, and would try to use the literal meaning of tutte e due which is all and two, but would end up saying all that and everything.

We, in the family, always knew what she was trying to say, but we used to get a lot of laughs out of it! Incidentally, my first book was titled All that & everything, in honour of Grandma's little mix up!

Anyway, I digress - as usual. The humble oxy-moron is used everyday in everyday language and we take the meaning for granted. Ever taken a working holiday? Have you seen the movie, True Lies?


Until next week, why not listen to the Simon and Garfunkel song, The sound of silence?

Really? You can hear an oxy-moron?

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