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Many (fantasy) book titles contain an element of surprise by combining concepts that, in our everyday experience, do not usually appear together.

Examples:

(1) The Other Wind

Our world only has one kind of wind, of different strengths, and coming from different directions, but if you talk of the (one, general) wind, then there is no "other" wind, so effectively this title evokes something mysterious.

(2) The Stone of Tears

Usually stones and tears have nothing to do with each other – stones don't cry, and tears don't dry into stones – and therefore naming a stone as "of tears" makes us think of an uncommon stone with special significance and possibly strange powers or origin.

What is this rhetorical figure called, where words are combined in way that is unexpected from everyday experience?

I don't mean oxymorons, contradictions or paradoxes.


Whatever you think that the correct term is, searching for that term should turn up examples that are similar to those given above. Please link to such an example or quote the source. If you cannot find fitting examples, then it is unlikely that you have the correct term. After all, if you search for "swan" and don't find any ducks, then maybe "swan" isn't the word for a duck - no matter how much you think that the definition describes a duck.

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    But these are oxymorons (if one is charitable enough to rule out their being nonsense constructions, mere contradictions in terms). An expression one might logically expect to work, but which sounds wrong to native speakers, (like 'powerful tea' or a 'strong computer') is 'unidiomatic' (not generally considered acceptable). If a phrase is new and catches on, the term neologism applies. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '14 at 11:08
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    @EdwinAshworth All examples for oxymorons contain opposites of some sort. Silence is not loud and therefore cannot be deafening. An optimist sees the positive of everything, so does not mourn, because you only mourn what appears negative. Where is the contradiction in "other wind"? If there is one wind, there can be another wind. There is no semantic incongruity here. Please provide an example for an oxymoron that is similar in nature to those given in my question. – user32638 Dec 10 '14 at 11:32
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    In your examples you mention wind, tears and stones. All common, existing things. Nonsene is not restricted, by definition, to existing things. – user66974 Dec 10 '14 at 11:43
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    @Josh61 Readers of fantasy fiction – while they know that no "stone of tears" or "other wind" exist in their own reality, and before they read those books and understand what those terms apply to in their respective fictional universes –, most certainly do not perceive these titles to be nonsensical, but expect them to be meaningful. So quite obviously, some other principle must be at work here. – user32638 Dec 10 '14 at 12:05
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    Cited at Fun with Oxymorons: 'Oxymoron Definition Oxymorons (or oxymora) are literary figures of speech usually composed of a pair of neighbouring contradictory words (often within a sentence). However this is not always the case ... the Webster Dictionary defines oxymoron as "a combination of contradictory or incongruous words".' Here, 'The other wind' and 'Stone of Tears' are certainly incongruous strings. They're not ungrammatical. As for their acceptability, I'd say that depends on the larger context in which they're used. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '14 at 12:16
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I would consider these to be incongruous juxtapositions.

incongruous: Not in keeping with what is correct, proper, or logical

juxtaposition: an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast; the state of being close together.

If you prefer, you can call them incongruous appositions, but that doesn't carry the same surprise (to me) as justapositions.

If you insist on one word:

surrealism — an artistic movement emphasizing the imagination and characterized by incongruous juxtapositions and lack of conscious control

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Shown a title like The Stone of Tears I would normally try to make some sense of it. "Of" can mean "associated with", or "characterized by". Compare "a vale of tears". Thus, perhaps a stone at the place where a tragic event happened, a rocky outcrop on a moor--a setting in a border-ballad, say, or in a bodice-ripper. I offer this hypothetical interpretation to suggest that the rhetorical device could vary depending upon how the phrase is being understood. Incongruity is (often) in the eye of the beholder.

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    +1 I think rhetorical device should be your answer - "a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading him or her towards considering a topic from a different perspective, using sentences designed to encourage or provoke a rational argument from an emotional display of a given perspective or action." – Mynamite Dec 10 '14 at 21:05
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A paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory on the surface, yet seems to evoke a truth nonetheless.

An oxymoron is the placement of two ordinarily opposing terms adjacent to one another.

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I think they are examples of nonsense:

  • speech, writing, or any other symbolic system, that lacks any coherent meaning. Many poets, novelists and songwriters have used nonsense in their works, often creating entire works using it for reasons ranging from pure comic amusement or satire, to illustrating a point about language or reasoning.

    • The phrase "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" was coined by Noam Chomsky as an example of nonsense.
    • Jabberwocky, a poem (of nonsense verse) found in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (1871), is a nonsense poem written in the English language.

(from Wikipedia)

  • This area is notoriously subjective. I remember an English teacher commenting on the line 'The baked-bean wind blows mainly on the plain' written by a fellow science student at secondary school 'You almost had me. For a moment, I thought we had a budding genius.' Carroll's works are considered masterpieces by many; Chomsky's coinage is considered a superb example of the misuse of totally grammatical English. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '14 at 11:31
  • @EdwinAshworth Chomsky's sentence was also constructed to show that there is a difference between syntax and semantics. – Mitch Dec 10 '14 at 17:04
  • @Mitch I wasn't suggesting it wasn't intentional. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '14 at 20:30

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