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Let's talk about the "oxymoron" and whether it "translates" to a casual listener


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An oxymoron is paired words or a phrase that has seemingly contradictory meanings when the words are examined separately.  Many think of "jumbo shrimp" or "pretty ugly".  There are simple oxymorons that may be funny (jumbo=very large and shrimp=tiny or small) but many have an underlying social or political commentary underlying the analysis.  Some examples include "military intelligence" and "deafening silence".  Some are not true oxymorons, but "civil servant" is an example that is sometimes used in criticism of government employees (neither civil nor willing to serve).  I would welcome your favorite oxymoron and any "translation" you feel is required.  Think hard!

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An oxymoron is paired words or a phrase that has seemingly contradictory meanings when the words are examined separately.  Many think of "jumbo shrimp" or "pretty ugly".  There are simple oxymorons that may be funny (jumbo=very large and shrimp=tiny or small) but many have an underlying social or political commentary underlying the analysis.  Some examples include "military intelligence" and "deafening silence".  Some are not true oxymorons, but "civil servant" is an example that is sometimes used in criticism of government employees (neither civil nor willing to serve).  I would welcome your favorite oxymoron and any "translation" you feel is required.  Think hard!

You got mine there, "military intelligence". No disrespect to the respectable people who serve in the armed forces, but this is my favorite oxymoron, and it holds truth.

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I have long been fascinated with oxymorons.  Some of them are entertaining to some degree or another.  Here are a few that come to mind.

"random order"  -- Which when you really think about it makes no sense at all. 

"chaotic organization" also "organized chaos"  -- I always found these two amusing.

"cruel joke"  -- This one is kind of chilling to me; it gives me a visceral reaction. 

"working vacation"  -- For those enduring such a vacation, probably not so amusing! 

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One that always perplexes me, even as a native English speaker, is "new and improved". It's one or the other - if it's new, then there's no former version to improve upon!

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One that always perplexes me, even as a native English speaker, is "new and improved". It's one or the other - if it's new, then there's no former version to improve upon!

  Yes and I have often wondered when literally translated by a non native speaker how much confusion these may cause.
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I have long been fascinated with oxymorons.  Some of them are entertaining to some degree or another.  Here are a few that come to mind.

"random order"  -- Which when you really think about it makes no sense at all. 

"chaotic organization" also "organized chaos"  -- I always found these two amusing.

"cruel joke"  -- This one is kind of chilling to me; it gives me a visceral reaction. 

"working vacation"  -- For those enduring such a vacation, probably not so amusing! 

  Thank you Laura M, those are good examples of how oxymorons can bring up more than the simple definition of paired words.  You make a good point as well about "cruel joke".  I usually find them amusing or a sort of social commentary, but yes that is chilling.
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Would oxymorons fall under English Idioms, or do they translate into other languages as well? Directly translated you would see some contradict each other but not all. "Military intelligence", for example, probably doesn't translate to other languages as a phrase of two opposites.

"Freezer burn" is one example I don't see often.

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Oxymorons exist in other languages as well. "Random order" is one example that is also known in Dutch, and likely as well in other languages (since it just means the order type is 'random', as opposed to 'alphabetical order' or 'order of appearance' etc.).

I'm sure there are some that are only known in English, or a select number of languages, and that there are others that do not exist in English, but the overall concept is the same.

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I'm surprised there hasn't been mention of oxymoron itself yet - which translated means "sharp dull" in Greek.

Using "plain" in combinations like "plain exciting" or "plain absurd" is funny.

Technically, "almost done/finished" is an oxymoron, but it still makes sense. You're either done or not, but you can be close to completion.

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They do exist in Spanish, but I think they're less common and more likely to appear in literature than in daily speech.

One in English I saw recently; "liquid gas"

Wow, never really though about that.  I think some we are so used to slip right by.

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I'm surprised there hasn't been mention of oxymoron itself yet - which translated means "sharp dull" in Greek.

Using "plain" in combinations like "plain exciting" or "plain absurd" is funny.

Technically, "almost done/finished" is an oxymoron, but it still makes sense. You're either done or not, but you can be close to completion.

Yes, good point.  The word oxymoron itself is an oxymoron!  Those are all great examples.  We do use "plain" quite a bit in that way; "plain thrilling" and "plain awful" and the list goes on.

Agree to disagree for me always sounds a bit funny but I like the fact it rolls nice on the tongue. All alone always makes me feel sad for some reason.

Likewise, that those are great examples, too. 

Oxymorons are so common, and it's only when we really examine them that we realize they are contradictory. 

Here are a few more that strike me as amusing when you really think about them.  They all come across as excuses or evasions of some sort.

"Additional reduction" 

"Accidentally on purpose"

"Definite maybe"

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