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I am looking for a positive adjective to describe a conversation motivated between objects or ideas of different orders? 'Incommensurate', 'unlikely' et c. come to mind, but is there a positive adjective that appreciates the ingenuity of it?

In short, to institute a creative comparison between apples and oranges is a __________ comparison.

  • How about "original" or "unique"? I would of course do away with one of the instances of the word "comparison" to avoid repetition: "It'd be original/unique to institute a creative comparison between apples and oranges." – Gustavson Feb 22 '17 at 2:47
  • you could just call it an interesting comparison. – Jim Feb 22 '17 at 4:36
  • Isn't creative the word you are looking for? – jxh Feb 22 '17 at 22:10
  • All these words work as qualifications for the comparison, yes. That is why the question itself identifies 'unlikely' as a possible option. However, I am looking for an accurate, if not technical, description of the comparison. Thanks. – FenceSitter Feb 23 '17 at 8:31
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Unexpected.

not expected; unforeseen; surprising: an unexpected pleasure; an unexpected development. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/unexpected)

You can also choose one of many thesaurus entries at unexpected.

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At the heart of Hegel's philosophy is the reconciliation of two contradictory ideas -- thesis and antithesis -- by means of the Hegelian dialectic [Wikipedia], the result being synthesis. In your case, one can think of "apples" as the thesis and "oranges" as the antithesis.

OD:

dialectic: enquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.

synthesis: (in Hegelian philosophy) the final stage in the process of dialectical reasoning, in which a new idea resolves the conflict between thesis and antithesis [emphasis added]

Your example:

To institute a creative comparison between apples and oranges is a dialectical comparison.

The resulting synthesis is that apples and oranges are both fruits.

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    What's with the down vote? Without an explanation, total BS. – Richard Kayser Feb 22 '17 at 6:04
  • I didn't downvote, but I don't like "synthesis" for this because just comparing apples and oranges doesn't mean that the final stage of dialectical reasoning has happened yet. Right now, we just have two weird things being compared. Also note, if I had downvoted, with an aggressive question like this, I'd probably be less likely to provide an explanation, since I'd be afraid the person who wrote "total BS" might fly off the handle. Which I've never seen you do -- but maybe others don't know that. – aparente001 Feb 23 '17 at 6:30
  • @aparente001 Haven't had much time for ELU lately. My comment is not so much flying off the handle as telling it like it is -- as I see it, of course. :-) The question is vague, but I considered apples and oranges metaphors for antithetical ideas not obviously reconcilable; I did this based on the OP's use of the word "incommensurate", which made me think of Hegel's thesis and antithesis. And my answer was "dialectic", not synthesis. Perhaps I made the mistake of reading more into the question than was warranted. Anyway, thanks for the comment. I hope all is well with you and yours. – Richard Kayser Feb 23 '17 at 7:07
  • @RichardKayser, you didn't read too much. It was closer to what I was looking for, because the question does come from a humanities context. I was reading an essay that compares video and migration, using 'movement' as a conceptual metaphor, and I wanted to make a generalised statement about what the humanities makes possible with such comparisons. The other answers supply words to qualify them, but your answer comes closest to the accurate description that I was looking for. I am not quite willing to settle for dialectic, though. :) – FenceSitter Feb 23 '17 at 8:28
  • @FenceSitter Understood. Thanks for the comment. Our goal as users is to meet your need. – Richard Kayser Feb 24 '17 at 1:34
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These words come to mind as underscoring the capacity of this unlikely comparison to draw out some insight through analogical reasoning or mapping of the source domain (the orange) onto the target domain (the lemon) or vice versa.

  • unprecedented
  • remarkable
  • singular
  • creative eccentric / offbeat / extra-ordinary
  • refreshing
  • illuminating
  • disfiguring/refiguring
  • mind-bending

Each one of these positive adjectives alludes a contrast between two opposites, states, or realms. That tension between realms evokes the disparity between the domains or 'orders' of your comparison. They highlight the positive nature not only of this comparison, but of distant comparisons in general, which force a shift in perspective.

Words that highlight instead the playfulness of a distant comparison:

  • 'playful' itself (not good for the apple/orange contrast because that example in particular is cliche)
  • jocular
  • sprightly (similar to refreshing)
  • whimsical

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