Wednesday, April 12, 2006

April 12: Oxymoron Day

At 4:30 am on this day in 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Forty-three confederate guns along the coast of Charleston, South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. On the following morning, the Union commander of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered after 33 straight hours of bombardment. No one on either side was killed, but by the end of the war four years later, 600,000 of the 3,000,000 who fought were dead (1).

The term civil war is sometimes classified as an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory words are combined, as in deafening silence. The word is from Greek and is itself an oxymoron that translates as "sharp-dull."

Below are other examples of oxymora (Yes, as in some other words from Greek, the plural of oxymoron is irregular: oxymora):

jumbo shrimp
guest host
old news
dry ice
light heavyweight
original copy
festina lente (Latin for hurry slowly)

In the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, a play about contrasts, love and hate, young and old, darkness and light, Romeo presents an oxymoron-packet speech when he reacts to the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues:

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep
, that is not what it is!
(Act I.i.176)

Some individual words we use today began as oxymora. For example, the word sophomore originated from the combination of two Greek words sophos, meaning "wise," and moros, meaning "foolish, dull."

Today’s Challenge: Apples and Oranges

Try creating your own oxymora by juxatposing words that have contrasting meanings.
The combinations that work best are:

noun-noun (news magazine)
adjective-noun (poetic prose)
adverb-verb (silently yelling)

Quote of the Day: Education is what remains when we have forgotten all that we have been taught. --Sir George Savile

2- Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature (6th Edition). Macmillian General Reference, 1992: 338.

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