I'm looking for a word or phrase that describes the specific type of word-play or idiom in these examples::

  • The movie Rocky Horror Picture Show is so bad that it's good.
  • Chinese Crested Hairless dogs are so ugly they're cute.
  • Eating these high-fat triple-chocolate brownies is so right that it's wrong.

(BTW: The above are not my actual opinions, just examples of the usage I am asking about!)

I had thought about chiasmus, but it doesn't fit exactly. Any other ideas?

  • Notice they all use the same construction? Something like so X that Opp(X). It's an idiomatic construction, of which there are thousands in English. And there isn't a special Greek name for this one; the Greeks weren't talking about English. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 15:39
  • I never understand why some people use such meaningless juxtapositions without apparently realising how stupid they sound. If something is "bad", it's bad. It doesn't suddenly become "good" if it's really bad. Perhaps it's based on the idea that if you travel far enough west, you end up in the east. But it makes no sense to me - all I can see is that people senselessly apply the so X it's Y idiom thinking there's some potentially "clever" meaning to so X it's ~X, even if they don't know what they mean. – FumbleFingers Jun 25 '14 at 15:43
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    @FumbleFingers: I agree! Rocky Horror is just plain bad. Chinese Cresteds are just plain ugly. And as long as done in moderation, one should fully enjoy brownies. But the construction still exists, I am just trying to put a name on it. – cobaltduck Jun 25 '14 at 15:48
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    @Fumble I’m not sure I quite agree with that. There are movies that are enjoyable to watch because they are so poorly made that they become unintentionally funny. I agree that Rocky Horror isn’t one, but they do exist. And some people enjoy such movies almost more than good movies. And then there are cases where something can feel so good it hurts (semantically, though not verbally, identical), or the opposite: something can hurt so much you go numb. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 25 '14 at 15:53
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    @Janus: I might almost have to concede that point. Generally speaking I wouldn't waste my time watching something a movie so badly made that unintentionally it becomes amusing, but I can't deny I was fascinated by Reefer Madness. Originally an anti-drug propaganda film in the 30s, the restored 2004 release turns it into something totally different. The social context has radically changed for many viewers, and the weird use of colourised smoke is a masterstroke. I love it (but for all the wrong reasons, I'm sure director Louis J. Gasnier would say). – FumbleFingers Jun 25 '14 at 16:04

In a non-searchable and potentially ephemeral comment to the original posting, Professor Lawler kindly presented the following answer:

Notice they all use the same construction? Something like:

           so X that Opp(X)

It’s an idiomatic construction, of which there are thousands in English. And there isn’t a special Greek name for this one; the Greeks weren’t talking about English.

I’ve marked this posting Community Wiki because it is John’s answer not my own, and so I deserve no reputation from it.

  • Accepting due to these these words only: "there isn’t a special Greek name for this one". – cobaltduck Jul 7 '14 at 13:35

Phrases that follow the template of a popular saying like “so bad it’s good” are called snowclones. The term comes from “Eskimos have X words for snow,” another very popular snowclone.


Paradox comes to mind. Definition:

Something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible

Oxymoron (e.g. "extreme pacifist") is also called "a compressed paradox". In this case it is not compressed to my vision, so I'd stick with paradox.

  • Perhaps you mean aggressive pacifist? – bib Jun 25 '14 at 16:21
  • The example is taken from the second link above. Aggressive pacifist works as well, and it is a more clear example of an oxymoron. – Vilmar Jun 25 '14 at 16:24
  • While I respect Bones' clinical skills, her language ability (like her social skills) is often pompous at best and distorted at worst. Extreme does not suggest violence, just as pacifism does not suggest passivity. – bib Jun 25 '14 at 16:33

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