oxymoron – noun: a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect; a contradiction of terms.
Hands up, all of you who are feeling merry at the moment. That’s what I thought. If you were feeling merry, you wouldn ‘t be here, reading this blog. The folks who are presently (so to speak) out shopping aren’t feeling all that merry either, despite the airwaves being clogged with canned Christmas music encouraging everyone to be merry and spend lots. You, my friend, are amongst the more fortunate ones. Instead of out running around like a blue-assed fly in a bottle, you are here, where you have the opportunity to be merrified by the great Scott Joplin playing his Maple Leaf Rag.
But back to the oxymoron. I reckon “Merry Christmas” is a great example of a contradiction of terms. For the millions of people who have no one to share the festivities with, or–make that and/or–who have nothing to share, for those who have lost loved ones, for those whose hearts are hurting for a hundred reasons, Christmas not only is not merry, it is desperately unhappy. More unhappy than the rest of the year, even if their circumstances are unchanged. More unhappy because we are assaulted with the message that we should be merry, dammit, everyone else is merry. Aren’t they?
And for those lucky folks who do have lots of family and resources to share, the merriment involves a lot of stress. What to buy for whom, whose parents to spend Christmas with, “I’m not inviting Ted this year just because he’s you brother; last year he poured eggnog over the dog and tried to ride her” stress. So much festivity, so little time… There. I’ve had my little grizzle about Merry Christmas. Time to move on to other oxymorons.
We have a politician in Australia who is … well, let’s just say she isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. I won’t mention her name because every Australian knows it, and no one in the rest of the English-speaking world gives a fig newton. Anyway, she is a notorious xenophobe, and when asked by an interviewer one day (a live broadcast, I think) if she was xenophobic, her reply was “Please explain.” Anyway, back to the point. This person was a member of Parliament for the seat of … wait for it… Oxley. So, naturally, she was dubbed the Oxleymoron. A bit cruel, I admit, but oh, so apt…
Among the popular oxymorons, of course, are military intelligence, and military justice. The latter recalls to mind the famous Groucho Marx quote: “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” What a great line. I wish I’d thought of it first. There is also a book of the same name by Robert Sherrill.* I recall the book from when I was writing a short story based on the Presidio Mutiny Trials for a class I was taking called “Law as Literature.” How’s that for an oxymoron? How many laws do you know of that could be described as literary? That was back in the early 1970’s when I was a student at Boise State University. (Yes, I have a BS degree from BSU–and I’ve already heard the jokes about how appropriate that is.) Now can we move on? I seem to have digressed. A “tangential digression” as Prof. Overgaard used to say, back at BSU…
Back to Oxymorons. Many years ago I wrote a limerick about them. It goes like this:
A contradiction of terms, I surmise,
Can be full of semantic surprise.
When the choice of a word
Makes the meaning absurd,
Like ‘impotency is now on the rise.’
That’s it for today, folks. I’m off for a bit of retail therapy. Now there’s an oxymoron for you!! MM(“Military justice is to justice as military music is to music,” by Robert Sherrill. It’s available through Amazon.)