The poem I am studying has this line:

yes, how quaint and curious war is

I want a word to describe this for an essay on it. Would it be juxtaposition or oxymoron, or something else? It, in a way, has a hidden meaning.

  • 1
    Irony is using words to mean the opposite of their literal meaning, as in War is such fun because nobody really gets hurt. Juxtaposition just means placing things side by side for contrast, which could be other than contrast in meaning. An oxymoron is self-contradictory like cruel kindness. You example seems a good fit to none of these. Perhaps understatement. – deadrat Oct 10 '16 at 19:28
  • The intent could be irony, which is not always the opposite of literal meaning. When a hangman falls off his roof and accidently hangs himself on, oh, a clothesline, that's irony. But what's interesting about the quote is that at first glance it seems ironic, but quaint does mean something from the past, perhaps even the ancient past. And that we humans despite all our advances continue to have conflicts that kill millions is nothing if not curious. So both words are accurate. Maybe deep meaning – Zan700 Oct 10 '16 at 22:03
  • Also, it sounds a bit detached. – aparente001 Oct 11 '16 at 3:47

It's worth noting that quaint and curious in that context are nearly synonymous, not opposites. Curious is meant as "strange or peculiar", and quaint has a similar definition.

I agree with @deadrat that the most fitting rhetorical device is probably understatement, since the speaker greatly undermines the serious nature of war by talking of it as if it's some trivial or "peculiar" matter. Consider why the author might introduce this understatement in an otherwise serious piece about war.

Anyway, for the future, in case you do come across a writer who presents two opposite ideas close to each other in their writing, you would be correct in using the term "juxtaposition" (e.g. "The speaker juxtaposes A and B to emphasize C").

  • It's similarly worth noting that the phrase "quaint and curious" is borrowed from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven: "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—". – Scott Oct 11 '16 at 5:17
  • Interesting, did not know that! So with that in mind, it partly hints to the answer @Zan700 gave, that war has become, over millenia, one of the "volumes of forgotten lore" that's just come to be taken as a norm of our existence. I may be off on that interpretation. Not sure if the author did intend to borrow the phrase from Edgar Allan Poe, though, but they certainly match. – AleksandrH Oct 11 '16 at 10:16

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