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I came across this sentence and I got a mixed feeling about the usage of the below terms in one sentence describing a characteristic of an object. Here is the full sentence:

"To achieve that the language must be contemporary, casual, and elegant this isn’t the case today."

What bothered me here was a description of the language. I feel like contemporary and casual do not go well with elegant. Or am I wrong?

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, Matt E. Эллен, Gnawme, Andrew Leach, simchona Jun 19 '12 at 20:34

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Too Localised. The meanings of all three adjectives are simply General Reference, and there's no reason to suppose anyone else would have a problem with them all being applied to a single referent. – FumbleFingers Jun 19 '12 at 17:44

There’s no reason at all why language cannot be all three. I’d be more concerned about the absence of a full stop after elegant and of an initial capital letter for this.

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Side note: That sentence is a run-on. There should be a period or a semi-colon between "elegant" and "this", or a disjunction such as "but", or the sentence should be re-worded.

But to your question: Basically, I agree. In context, the writer appears to be using the adjectives as if he were describing clothing or home decor. In that context, "casual" means "informal". "Elegant" means "tasteful, refined, dignified" etc. "Contemporary" means "current, modern".

I tend to think of "elegant" as almost the opposite of "casual"; "elegant" usually implies formal, fancy, etc. but without being ostentatious. I suppose by the dictionary definition, this isn't necessarily so, but that's the usual connotation. It would be very odd to say, "Alice looked elegant in her blue jeans, army boots, and sweat shirt." If someone said that they would almost certainly mean that her general bearing or appearance were such that even in the grungiest clothes she somehow still managed to look elegant, and not that blue jeans etc. constituted elegant attire.

To a lesser extent, "elegant" is generally understood to imply a certain level of traditionalism, and thus would tend to be an opposite of "contemporary". I don't think that connotation is as strong though. If someone said that furniture or clothes were "contemporary and elegant", that would likely be seen as unusual, but not as a paradox. Still, I'd expect they'd really say "contemporary BUT elegant".

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Not a bad answer – except they're not talking about clothing; they're talking about language. In that context, the opposite of contemporary might be obsolete: Knowest thou what I mean? The opposite of casual could be formal: Assuredly, you are able to comprehend that idea, I would presume. And the opposite of elegant could be unrefined: Get the picture? Because the three words describe three different aspects of language, it's perfectly acceptable to use all three adjectives as simultaneous qualifiers: Do you understand what I am saying? – J.R. Jun 19 '12 at 18:17
@JR From the brief quote, it sounded to me like the writer was being somewhat metaphorical, using language normally used to describe furniture, clothing and the like to describe language. All three adjectives are commonly used in such "fashion" contexts, but "elegant" in particular is rarely -- though not never, by any means -- used to describe language. Regardless of whether he was being literal or metaphorical, I think "elegant" has connotations that make it rather incompatible with "casual". As I tried to say above, the juxtaposition is not an impossible paradox, but is a bit of a stretch. – Jay Jun 20 '12 at 15:00
@JR BTW, the idea behind your antonyms applies to both language and clothing. The opposite of casual clothing is formal clothing. The opposite of elegant clothing is unrefined clothing. I don't think we'd call the opposite of contemporary clothing "obsolete", maybe "old-fashioned", but one could describe language as old-fashioned also. – Jay Jun 20 '12 at 15:02
I would have to agree with your "bit of a stretch" comment; casually elegant does have the ring of an oxymoron. As much as I had fun composing my comment, I'll confess: it was a bit of a challenge to come up with some language that wound sound casual, elegant, and contemporary. (Also, even when I first read your answer, I remember really liking your suggestion to use the word but). All in all, I found it to be a good discussion, even if the question did get closed. – J.R. Jun 20 '12 at 18:09

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