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I had an argument with my acquaintances:

[discussing the same translations of the phrase to various languages]

xxx: the German sentence is wrong, for what it's worth
yyy: the French one is too
yyy: they probably all are, actually
me:  yyy, congratulations. The last sentence, that you wrote is an oxymoron
xxx: how's that an oxymoron?
yyy: probably … actually? Arguably, the actual fact is that it is likely they all are wrong

[this is followed by an argument]

To tell the truth, none of us is a native English speaker, but my knowledge of the language is worst out of the three people.

So, I have a question. Is 'they probably all are, actually' sentence an oxymoron or not?

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4  
Good thing you're not native English speakers, or you would have said "literally" and we'd be having a whole 'nother discussion. –  JeffSahol Nov 21 '11 at 20:55
    
I'm sorry, what? What kind of discussion are you implying? –  kyrylo Nov 21 '11 at 21:07
    
I'm just joking about the tendency of people (teenage American girls, mostly) to use the word "literally" when they are trying to emphasize a point. It would be even more out of place than "actually" is in your example. –  JeffSahol Nov 21 '11 at 21:12
    
Oh, I didn't know that. Thanks for explanation. :) –  kyrylo Nov 21 '11 at 21:28
2  
"Oh my God! He's dead!". "No - he's probably just been knocked out, actually." I don't see a problem with the logic there. –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 3:28
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Actually is used to add emphasis to the truth of what you are saying, while probably is used to say that something is likely to happen. They can certainly be used together with no contradiction.

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Actually could be replaced by “as a matter of fact”.

So “they probably all are, as a matter of fact”.

However, you are unsure that they are all wrong and so it can't be a matter of fact.

This is where the confusion lies for me.

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Actually, I think in the usage we're talking about here, the word actually can probably be more accurately expanded to as a matter of fact which you may well be unaware of. I don't see anything unquestionably oxymoronic in using this in the same statement as "probably". –  FumbleFingers Nov 22 '11 at 3:24
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An oxymoron is a figure of speech containing contradictory terms, such as "living dead". You have not committed an oxymoron. Perhaps the word your friend was looking for is redundancy.

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1  
It's 'me' who said “oxymoron”, and I think he meant it as such. He's just asking if that's true or not. (This comment is meant as a downvote, only I can't yet ^_^) –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 3 '12 at 13:14
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