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Minimum of up to three years of full-time applicable work experience in municipal solid waste services administration or closely related field.

Is the phrase minimum of up to three years an oxymoron?

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  • ...which part are you asking about? Apr 5, 2016 at 21:46
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    I'd be inclined to say yes, despite there being quite a few hits for the phrase online. "up to three years" would be anywhere from no time at all to three years, so adding "minimum" does seem contradictory to me. Apr 5, 2016 at 21:53
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    It's not an oxymoron so much as the output of a moronic ox.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 5, 2016 at 21:54
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    I would say that it's simply self-contradictory, whereas an oxymoron should be done deliberately for rhetorical effect.
    – Simon B
    Apr 5, 2016 at 21:57
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    An oxymoron is an apparent contradiction in terms (not a real one) stated concisely; it actually makes sense, but it takes quite a time seeing how. But this is an incorrect juxtaposition; 'a minimum of three years' is correct. The 'up to' constraint doesn't make any sense here. It's tantamount to saying 'a minimum of some amount of time (but we're not saying what) between 0 - 3 years' Apr 5, 2016 at 21:57

4 Answers 4

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First, a definition:

Oxymoron noun A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true). - ODO

The keyword is contradiction. In the phrase you quoted, namely, minimum of up to three years, there is no contradiction. The minimum is required to be "up to three years". There is no contradiction because there are possible values that satisfy, e.g. one year.

Here's your quote:

Minimum of up to three years of full-time applicable work experience in municipal solid waste services administration or closely related field.

This is not a sentence. Everything in the quote after Minimum just qualifies the word minimum. There is no verb or predicate related to minimum (or as an aside, anywhere in the quote).

Whether the quote is meaningful is another question, and that depends on the context. For example, suppose there are two pay grades: junior and senior, where the senior pay grade requires 3 years of experience (or if the bureaucrats prefer, a minimum of 3 years of experience). One might say the junior pay grade requires no experience, but if the form of each pay grade must be structured as:

  • Minimum of (period) years of full-time ...,

then "up to three" is a plausible, if clunky, phrase to replace (period). Of course, zero would be a better replacement.


tl;dr The quoted phrase is not an oxymoron; it is simply a roundabout way of saying that no experience is required.

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It's hard to say. Though it does seem to defeat its purpose - up to three years could just as well be one day! It's really quite a stupid construction. "Minimum of" should just be removed and then "is required" added at the end of the sentence.

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The phrase "minimum of up to three years" is not an oxymoron because an oxymoron is a concise paradox: a phrase of (usually) two words that contradict each other. Strictly speaking, the two halves of the oxymoron should be contradictory when interpreted literally, and the contradiction should be the "point" of the phrase--i.e., the reader should be impressed that such a thing could exist when logically it should not.

As stated by @Edwin Ashworth in the comments above

The 'up to' constraint doesn't make any sense here. It's tantamount to saying 'a minimum of some amount of time (but we're not saying what) between 0 - 3 years'

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It is poorly phrased. Break it into parts. "Up to three years" is a period, which might include (for example) 2 years, 1 year, or 3 years. Then "a minimum of that period" is a minimum of 1, 2, 3, etc. years. Since "up to X" has inherently not got a minimum, then it starts at zero; so the minimum of up to X is (I suppose) zero, or no time at all.

But what they (apparently?) meant is "a minimum of SOME experience, NOT none at all, and three years would be a great start" (?).

I work as a computer programmer and it's possible to express certain things in very ridiculous ways which don't sound good, but are logically coherent anyway. (To take a bad example, just to save space, we could correctly describe the number 1 as "any number that is neither smaller than 1 nor greater than 1".) Here we have got a problem of expression. It's not wrong: it's just silly, or a waste of time. If you have to deal with this in an official context, either ignore it, or find the "owner" and highlight the silliness and ask them to change it.

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