Wrongful Language: Oxymorons

From the greek for ‘sharply dull’, oxymorons are when words that contradict each other are combined together in error, to highlight a paradox or to satarise. A few of my usual mistakes:

  • almost exactly
  • simply impossible
  • act naturally
  • only choice
  • nearly unique
  • cautiously optimistic
  • original copy
  • initial conclusion

Much more fun is when we say something is an oxymoron to draw attention to a potential irony:

  • common sense
  • political integrity
  • corporate ethics
  • equal opportunities
  • bureaucratic efficiency
  • sleeping like a baby

And a few media cliches:

  • friendly fire
  • flexible budget
  • negative growth (recession)
  • found missing
  • small miracle
  • modern classic
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2 responses to “Wrongful Language: Oxymorons

  1. Some of those are hard to describe as oxymorons any more though, as we look at how the english language has evolved, not to mention its ability at exactness and preciseness.

    But to point out the one with which I could not resist to comment on, Murphy’s Laws of Combat: Friendly fire-isn’t

    • I agree our definitions change – to err today, is fun tomorrow and good practice the next day – the paradox or pun soon gets lost through common usage. This is one of my interests in writing this series of posts – reminding myself of the rules I abuse and ignore.

      However, I disagree that friendly fire isn’t an oxymoron in the modern use of the term. It is the architypal adjective-noun combination in which there is a contradiction – firing at someone can never by friendly. ‘Fire from friendly forces’ would be much more accurate and wouldn’t de-emphasis the consequences. That is the danger of oxymorons they can be used to twist language – clean coal, low-fat cream – juxtaposing opposites to change our emotional response to words.

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