An oxymoron is a word like firewater that is self-contradictory.
Frequently, oxymoronic terms like old news are used without us thinking
about what we are really saying. A double classic is fresh frozen, jumbo
shrimp, where apart from its dubious freshness we have the problem
of size when «jumbo» means very large, and «shrimp»
is both a shellfish (Norw. reke) and also something very small.
Appropriately, the term oxymoron is itself oxymoronic because it is formed
from two Greek roots with opposite meanings (adj. -oxy, which is «pointed
and keen», and moros «foolish», the same root as the
word «moron»). Oxymoron is the singular form and oxymora
is the plural form, not «oxymorons».
Oxymora are not necessarily mistakes or errors in speech or writing.
They make effective titles and phrases as in Shakespeare's «parting
is such sweet sorrow» and Malcolm Muggeridge's comment that «Good
taste and humour are a contradiction in terms, like a chaste whore».
Some combinations may be the basis of satire, such as the story of the
British officer who innocently called to his men in the heat of battle:
«Its all right chaps, according to intelligence we are under friendly
fire». The term military intelligence is probably a good way
to remember what an oxymoron is all about.
Oxymora are the basis of cliches like: half naked, small fortune,
open secret, working holiday and living dead. Even some foreign
loan words are oxymoronic: pianoforte (soft-loud), monopoly
(one many) and sophomore (wise fool).
Perhaps the greatest problem with oxymora for careful writers is avoiding
them. Here are some prize specimens from trade names and elsewhere:
Microsoft Works - Advanced Basic - Diet Coke - elevated subway -
new classic - plastic glass - silent scream - exact estimate - tight slacks
- slack tights - original copy - bittersweet
Journalists often relish in satirical oxymora like «the Senator's
popularity soared like a lead balloon». Here are some choice examples
from The Financial Times' own database:
English cuisine - pleasant villain - colourful accountant - poor
bookmaker- vegetarian haggis - French queue
index, indexes, indices
Index (Norw. register) means both an alphabetic listing
at the end of a report or textbook and a scale used for measuring changes
in prices and the like (Norw. indeks).
Indexes is one of the plurals of index. It means both
alphabetical lists and the stock market indexes: «The FT and Dow
Jones indexes are both down again». The ending rhymes with «siz».
Indices is another plural of index. It is used in mathematics
and also means evidence, usually of a criminal kind: «The police
had a number of indices to work on» (Norw. indisiebevis).
The ending rhymes with «seas».
Impracticable (Norw. ugjennomførlig) means not
feasible or impossible to carry out: «Fifty years ago it was considered
impracticable to get a man on the moon».
Impractical (Norw. upraktisk) means not practical: «He
is probably an excellent pilot, but as he is both short sighted and obese,
it is completely impractical for him to think of applying for such a career».
Though there is a difference, impractical is moving into the impracticable
sphere. If you have to make a clear distinction, impractical can
be replaced by useless or notsensible.
Rare (Norw. sjelden) is used for uncommon, but valuable
objects: «She collects rare British stamps from the 19th century».
Scarce (Norw. knapphet) is used for common objects that
people are short of (often for a limited period): «Wheat may be scarce
in Russia this winter».
Decimate (Norw. desimere, redusere sterkt) originally
meant «kill one in ten». Now, it usually means kill a large
proportion: «The people in the village were decimated in the war»,
which means that many died.
Exterminate (Norw. utrydde) means to kill everyone or
wipe out: «The people in the village were exterminated in the war»,
which means they all died.
In a Bangkok temple: It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner
if dressed as a man.
Spanish Hotel Ad: The provision of a large French widow in every room
adds to the visitors comfort.
French Swimming Pool: Swimming is forbidden in absence of the Savior.