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"Well we’re getting closer… or farther away."

This was a tongue-in-cheek response characterizing the state of a system. What word characterizes this one statement with its diametrically opposed conclusions as it's stated that we're either getting [both] closer or farther away?" I plan to respond to the person quoted with "I’ve never heard such a ________ statement from you."

  • Contradictory. ? – WS2 Jan 7 '15 at 23:48
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"That's an oxymoron", I would say.

oxymoron - (noun) A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence and a mournful optimist. TFD

As you are looking for an adjective, you might say "paradoxical" or "self-contradictory".

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It's not an oxymoron, it's not contradictory, and it's not paradoxical.

It simply states that there are two possibilities, one of which is true. And it implicitly excludes a third possibility: that we are staying the same distance away.

If you need a word for what it expresses, the answer is that it is an assertion of a disjunction. One (and implicitly only one) of two things (two in this case) is true.

Given the context of someone apparently reporting, with tongue in cheek, the status of a system, another word that comes to mind is equivocal or perhaps even evasive or noncommittal.

  • But it is also humorous (because the two possibilities are opposites), which the word disjunction entirely fails to capture. – Irefuteitthus Jan 8 '15 at 19:28
  • It's like John Major's joke about meeting Boris Yeltsin: "So tell me Boris, in a word, how are things in Russia?" "Good." "Well, perhaps in a bit more detail than that...?" "Not good." – Irefuteitthus Jan 8 '15 at 19:32
  • On its own it is not humorous. No doubt it is humorous in context. But the OP provided no context, beyond saying that it was meant with tongue-in-cheek. If s?he wanted to capture the humor as well, which depends entirely on the context and pronouncing the statement with tongue-in-cheek, then the question should specify that. – Drew Jan 8 '15 at 20:55

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