I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. -- Mark Twain
July 23, 2004 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I never realized that "new and improved" was an oxymoron, but it is. Great link, anastasiav.
posted by jpoulos at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2004

"Income Tax". Thanks anastasiav.
posted by hama7 at 7:29 AM on July 23, 2004

Language, like food, sex, religion and GWB, always brings out the hordes of opinion-mongers on Metafilter. Here's mine:

Only a small fraction of these oxymorons are true oxymorons. Phrases like "jet lag," "football scholarship," "healthy dose," "holy land," and, eveyone's favorite, "jumbo shrimp," are not oxymorons.
posted by kozad at 7:31 AM on July 23, 2004

how about "hells angel"
posted by johnnyboy at 7:47 AM on July 23, 2004

Casual Fan, my favourite is missing.

How can one be casual and fanatical?

Is Rhetorical Question one?
posted by kenaman at 7:54 AM on July 23, 2004

Newly Added Oxymorons:
Neo Conservative

posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:57 AM on July 23, 2004

If the word "shrimp" means small, there are gradation within that category to define size with a general category of smallness--thus jump, medium, small shrimp...in America we say shrimp scampi when the Italian word for this ocean beastie is "scampi," thus we are rally saying Shrimp Shrimp when we ought to be saying "scampi."
posted by Postroad at 8:14 AM on July 23, 2004

thus we are rally saying Shrimp Shrimp when we ought to be saying "scampi."

Sort of like all those infuriating sign I see in delis saying "ATM Machine"
posted by jonmc at 8:27 AM on July 23, 2004

I've never thought oxymorons are as interesting as other people seem to. Sometimes they create an instructive dissonance, but I've never bought into the idea that there's really anything important going on linguistically -- unless, of course, you want to approach it from a General Semantics perspective.

"Neo Conservative" is a good example of a boring "oxymoron" (yes, Steve, I agree that it's not). So is "jumbo shrimp"; why did Postroad have to bother writing a paragraph to explain it, when we all know exactly what it means?

Most things people call oxymorons, aren't. Real oxymorons are pretty rare in conversation for the same reason that real tautologies are rare: Because they're pointless. "Living Corpse" or "Wealthy Billionaire" just aren't things that have any resonance. What we're talking about here are almost all apparent oxymorons; their meaning is clear, unless you twist your frame of reference for some reason (fatigue, language barrier, lack of imagination, active imagination, ...).

"Honest politician" is only interesting in a broader context. The famous Twainian opposition of "schooling":"education" isn't really an oxymoron at all, but it is interesting because we traditionally hold that the purpose of schooling is education. (Which, in fact, it is; the question at hand is what kind of eduction...)
posted by lodurr at 8:30 AM on July 23, 2004

"modern history" is not an oxymoron.

"Modern" is a technical historian's term that describes a historical era from around the American/French Revolution until today. Actually there is some debate that the "modern" area ended with World War 2, and we are now in the "post-modern".
posted by falconred at 8:34 AM on July 23, 2004

Scampi Shrimp might be a tautology. I'm not sure its an oxymoron.
posted by davehat at 9:18 AM on July 23, 2004

Neo Conservative

Neo meaning "new, changing, unfamiliar"
Conservative meaning "in favor of maintaining the status quo; against change; one who conserves"

Like most of the oxymorons listed here, while "neo" and "conservative" have opposite meanings when considered as seperate words, when combined in a phrase the term "neo" takes on a seperate, more contextual meaning, and isn't really oxymoronic [love that] at all. As others have said, much like "Jumbo shrimp" or "Modern History."

"Football scholarship," on the other hand, is just plain prejudice. The boss of my company was a high school all-American. The valedictorian of my graduating class played football. For the first time in history, graduates from every ivy league college are currently playing in the NFL. Indeed, Stamford is a perennial contender in the Pac-10 football conference. Fuck you, oxymoron list.
posted by ChasFile at 9:19 AM on July 23, 2004

Um, unless you mean "Stanford," there are some major geographical shenanigans going on...
posted by rushmc at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2004

Is Rhetorical Question one?

Are we supposed to answer that?
posted by Witty at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2004

Is "Republican diplomacy" on there?

Just wonderin'...
posted by clevershark at 10:23 AM on July 23, 2004

Sort of like all those infuriating sign I see in delis saying "ATM Machine"

Worse is when said machine asks for your PIN Number.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:27 AM on July 23, 2004

Autoantonyms could be considered as self-contained oxymorons. Example: "oversight", which could mean watching closely or missing entirely.
posted by kurumi at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2004

Right before Y2K, I did my own collection of Oxymorons, The OXY2K, with a mostly unreadable static page format (I even misspelled Millennium) that only now I am converting to a more accessable format. I explain the recent history of oxys here (which also explains why "jumbo shrimp" is not just an oxymoron, it is THE oxymoron).

When I decided to revive the site (which will be at both oxy2k.com and jumboshrimp.info... don't go there yet), I googled around to see what anybody else had done with the subject in the last couple years. OxymoronList.com claims to be "the largest list of oxymorons ever collected online" with about half as many as I collected (and including a few I had rejected). But I was quite impressed with how oxymorons.info opens up each of the oxys for discussion - now if only somebody would actually use it.

For a long but well-backed-up list, I most admire the WordExplorations site, which reminds us in its own title "It’s Oxymora, Idiots Savants, not Oxymorons". Also a good list of pleonasms like ATM Machine and PIN Number.

Now I really have to finish the new OXYsite...
posted by wendell at 11:01 AM on July 23, 2004

Shakespeare's "sweet sorrow" is considered a prototypical "real" oxymoron.
posted by kindall at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2004

Here's why I would refuse Jumbo Shrimp entry to the exclusive Oxymoron Club (home of the legendary Deafening Silence):

Shrimp is a word referring to a small animal which we love to eat. It comes in varying sizes. There are those small, cheap Cocktail Shrimp on the one hand. (Wait! Is that an oxymoron? You can't drink a shrimp and shrimp don't make ya drunk!) There are other sizes of shrimp, too, just like there are different sizes of elephants. There are baby elephants, big elephants, and...Jumbo Elephants! (The word jumbo, BTW, comes from one of the early circus elephants, whom P.T. named Jumbo.)

So, a really large shrimp is called jumbo. It is jumbo in relation to other shrimp, of course, not to us, and not to elephant, and not to fleas, to whom a shrimp would look very very large.

The urge to label this word pair an oxymoron comes when you succumb to the temptation to hijack a different (and more recent) definition of the word shrimp: small.

When I ask my butcher for a pound of jumbo shrimp, then, I am asking for really big shrimp, not for "really big small."

This is the same mistake made by many non-professional oxymoronologists, that of substituting for a word whatever definition would turn it into an oxymoron, instead of using the obviously intended definition.

You can beg to differ, but I ain't havin' it.
posted by kozad at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2004

I'm with ya, kozad. People also love to trot out "military intelligence" and snicker, but it bugs me just as much as "jumbo shrimp."
posted by muckster at 11:35 AM on July 23, 2004

The problem with popular use of the word "oxymoron," is that people forget that the word is primarily meant to be used to refer to a poetic device. As in "sweet sorrow," referenced above. (That phrase has been used to death since Shakespeare, but you can see how pairing such seemingly disparate emotions packs a hefty poetic punch.)

Using "oxymorons" to state an opinion (or prejudice), as in calling "football scholarship" or "military intelligence" oxymorons, or thinking that oxymorons are akin to linguistic party tricks, like palindromes, both overlook the primary use of the word as a way of understanding how a poet works.

Boy, am I feeling pedantic today!
posted by kozad at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2004

The European (and UK and Ireland) "scampi" are actually Nephrops norvegicus, a/k/a the "Norwegian lobster", which is more like what a North American would call "crayfish" than "shrimp".

"Shrimp" in the North American food trade is generally reserved for the Penaediae family. "Scampi" are members of the Nephropidae family (which includes the North American lobster).

So, to me, "shrimp scampi" can only mean "shrimp prepared in the style of scampi". It is neither a tautology nor an oxymoron, any more than a "raspberry Pavlova" is.

(See, kozad, you don't even know what 'pedantic' is until I get into it!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:19 PM on July 23, 2004

I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

I'm with kozad. Most of the examples on the site are marginally clever semantic tricks, not oxymorons. At lease the oxymoronic quote of the day section gives some examples of how to use oxymoron as a literary device. And they need to add this one, from Oscar Wilde:

"He hasn't a single redeeming vice."
posted by varmint at 12:53 PM on July 23, 2004

For better or worse, the term Oxymoron is used for a variety of linguistic twists (and I am working to develop a system of categorization for my site).

"Sweet sorrow" is a classic intentional literary oxy, written as a kind of shorthand irony with the purpose of making a point. Like "Christian Soldiers" and "black gold".

"Jumbo shrimp" is a typical oxy of multiple definition: it's likely that the designation of shrimp sizes came before "shrimp" became a common slang term for "little guy", therefore you have to jump meanings to get "big little guy" out of it; similar for "Neo-Conservative" - it's value as an oxy is dependent on using Conservative as a synonym for Traditionalist, therefore "New Traditionalist". Similarly, "alone together", "tight slacks" and the "Dodge Ram".

Some of the multi-definition oxys are victims of technical or legal jargon: "virtual reality" or "passive aggressive".

Other famous oxys are simple verbal flubs, like when Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn told his writers to come up with "new cliches".

Others pair a definitive word with an equivocating modifier: "almost exactly".

And a whole lot of what we call Oxymorons are dependent on leaps of opinion, and are meant to ridicule people and institutions that do not appear the same as they claim: Carlin's original "Military Intelligence" line has led to claims that "airline food", "Congressional Ethics", "educational television", "civil service" and "religious tolerance" are oxymoronic.

And then there are words that just seem silly together: "Grape Nuts".
posted by wendell at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2004

My favorite is the title of a book I saw someone reading on the subway: Classic Modern Science Fiction Short Novels. A triple oxymoron.
posted by alms at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2004

I just came across a good one watching "A Woman is a Woman:" Godard calls the film his "neorealist musical." It's good because, like "virtual reality," "sweet sorrow" and "passive-aggressive," the apparent contradiction leads to a new, third meaning.
posted by muckster at 3:35 PM on July 23, 2004

Hmmm, most of these are not really oxymorons, unless you take a specific meaning of the word. To be a true oxymoron, surely, the words must have only one meaning?

*prepares to slap the next person he meets who says PIN Number*
posted by dg at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2004

So most people misuse the term "oxymoron." What's the issue here again?
posted by rushmc at 10:50 PM on July 23, 2004

In any list of quotes on the internet, half will be by Yogi Berra, and the other 90% will be by Winston Churchill.

- Samuel Goldwyn
posted by yhbc at 11:02 PM on July 23, 2004

I carry a metal one wood
posted by johnny7 at 11:24 PM on July 23, 2004

alms' book title is definately going to be on my list. thanks!

I'm also considering adding Douglas Adams' classic decription of Earth: "Mostly harmless".

It was nice to see Samuel Goldwyn's famous quote about the internet. No matter how hard he may try, George W. "I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein" Bush will never out-malaprop Goldwyn.
posted by wendell at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2004

I like 'the Queen's English' myself.

Surprised that our man in the hat hasn't commented in this one...
posted by dmt at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2004

It's oxymoronic....like rain on your wedding day.
posted by jpoulos at 8:50 AM on July 26, 2004

George W. Bush presidency.
posted by soyjoy at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2004

Here's one I've never seen before...

Vermont Curry.
posted by soyjoy at 10:40 AM on August 4, 2004

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