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What is the term to describe this kind of sentence:

I don't know why people like to study things that they don't like to study.

There's some kind of logic error with this statement, and it's meant as a joke. What's an appropriate term to describe this sentence? (I was thinking of things like irony, etc.)

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You could describe it as a paradox since it contradicts itself.

Or simply a contradiction, inconsistency, or incongruity.

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Ironic (happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this) would be a perfectly good word.

So would paradoxical (seemingly absurd or self-contradictory), if OP doesn't like irony.

Personally I'd use ironic if the primary reason for saying it is to raise a laugh, or paradoxical if you really do want to explore the contradiction and explain it in some way. But I think that's just me - most speakers probably wouldn't see any real difference.

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I like Irony, but i think this could also be classified as a type of oxymoron, perhaps an "oxymoronic phrase". While the rhetoric is paradoxical, i don't think i'd call this sort of a sentence a "paradox".

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Personally I'd just call OP's example "nonsense". I'm sure I've never heard anyone say it, and I can't imagine what it's supposed to mean. It doesn't even have the kind of "half-sense" you get from stand-up comics when they start their performance with "Why is it that...", or "What's with..." –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 17:22
    
Oh, i don't know -- as an EFL teacher in Asia who has watched many an Engineer silently wither and wilt in classes i and their classmates worked really hard to make interesting, i could see myself maybe saying something like this. –  Kyle Pearson Sep 1 '11 at 17:26
    
People often commit to doing things they're not really suited to. For ideological or practical reasons, perhaps. But it doesn't make any sense to say they like to do those things if they actually don't. More sensibly, perhaps, OP could have said "I don't know why people like to sign up for courses in subjects they don't like". But maybe they didn't really even "like" to sign up in the first place - they did it for some other reason we know nothing about. –  FumbleFingers Sep 1 '11 at 17:37
    
The statement is "Why do people like to study things they don't like to study?" "Like to study" can simply mean "be prone to sign up for courses in", or "avow a fondness for"; "not like to study" would then simply indicate that, while this particular person's interest may not actually be leading them to take a certain class (as was the case with the Engineers in my EFL courses), they may still take classes in that subject, and may do so many times, with the faith that they are learning something even when it's obvious that they aren't. I have seen it happen many times. –  Kyle Pearson Sep 1 '11 at 17:50
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This can be seen as "repetition", in a fun way:

Repetition is the simple repeating of a word, within a sentence or a poetical line, with no particular placement of the words

The sentence given would have repeated the phrase "don't like to study"

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In linguistics, it would be called not felicitous.

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