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The specific situation that prompted me to ask was in the context of computer science regarding what is often called a "slice" for data structures. It can be perfectly valid, and I've done so on more than one occasion, to take a "slice" of a data structure that in fact just ends up being the entire data structure. From the computer science perspective it is still technically correct to call this a slice, but in English it's a little silly to refer to the whole as a slice.

Oxymoron or misnomer don't seem quite right, because strictly speaking there aren't any contradictory terms involved and "slice" is still the correct name. Any suggestions?

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    I would reconsider your assumptions. If it's technically correct, then how would it be nonsensical? It might be unexpected but that's something else – MrJLP Apr 26 '17 at 19:26
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    I think "technically correct" is actually precisely what you're looking for: I have never heard "technically correct" that isn't followed by, "but, in fact, kind of wrong." – brianpck Apr 26 '17 at 19:27
  • Of interest: english.stackexchange.com/q/29504/13804 (not directly related, and definitely not a duplicate). It contains several examples and discussion describing the difference between syntactically correct and semantically correct. – cobaltduck Apr 26 '17 at 19:28
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    This is an example of polysemy with hypernymy. A classic example uses two accepted but conflicting definitions of 'animal': [M-W] << [1] any of a kingdom (Animalia) of living things including many-celled organisms and often many of the single-celled ones (such as protozoans) that typically differ from plants in ..., and in having the capacity for spontaneous movement and rapid motor responses to stimulation // 2 : mammal; broadly >> So a fish is an animal but is not an animal. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 '17 at 21:45
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    Technology loves figurative language. No matter how you slice it, the garbage collector will pick up the whole thing intact. Unless of course you remove one piece at a time until it's empty. – RaceYouAnytime Apr 26 '17 at 23:09
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The situation you described could be called a "degenerate" case. A "slice" which is really the entire data structure is a limiting case which, while still being a "slice," doesn't really have the same properties you would expect (i.e., being a subset). Other examples are a triangle with angles of 0 and 180 degrees, or a random variable which can take only a single value.

I'm not sure if this is term is ever used this way in a non-technical context, however (or even outside of mathematics, really).

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The sentence with such a word would be grammatically correct but semantically incorrect (unsemantic).

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    No; it's also semantically correct. Neither definition is incorrect. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 '17 at 21:39
  • @Cascabel the single word was "unsemantic". But it was apparently incorrect. – Madbranch Apr 27 '17 at 6:43
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How does "trivially" (Def. 2b) sound? As in, "the data structure is trivially a slice of itself."

An alternative along the same lines would be "vacuously."

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Probably the best word you are going to find for this is: paradoxical

Link to Paradox definition

Other candidates:

  • enigma or enigmatic
  • antinome
  • inconsistency
  • incongruity

Technically, even "oxymoron" that you used in the question would also fit. You are in fact saying that there is an illogical or contradictory element, which is the concept of a "whole" being called a "slice". By that measure it's an oxymoron, or any of the above.

However, given what you are looking for, I believe the best word for the situation in this case is paradox.

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As a software developer and hobbyist pedant, I don't think you're going to find a word which encapsulates all of the intended meaning while also being unambiguously understood by the listener.
In search of an applicable word, people often forget that the listener should be able to understand the word without consulting a dictionary. You usually want to be accurate specifically to avoid an unnecessarily long explanation; but using a sufficiently complicated or unknown word achieves quite the opposite.

There are ways to communicate this with a specific phrasing, rather than looking for the most applicable word.


Your description is a bit generalized and vague, so let me use a more apt example: substrings.

For non-programmer readers:
A substring is part of a piece of text (which is called a "string [of characters]"). I.e. given the string "Hello world", these are all possible substrings: "Hello", "o wor", "ld", "Hello wor", but also "Hello world" itself (which is why it's an applicable example for OP's question).

How would I describe this?

A substring is a subset [of the characters] of a string. The list of possible substrings also includes the complete string. In other words, a string is also one of its own substrings.

To generalize:

A slice of a data structure is a subset of [the data in] that data structure. The list of possible slices also includes the full data structure. In other words, a data structure is also one of its own slices.


In all honesty, I find it slightly harder to understand when generalized, simply because it's less clear what we're talking about. In the substring example, it's much easier to understand.

But I am assuming that you used "data structure" in your question because you were trying to generalize your question; and that you in reality will use a more concrete name instead of just "data structure".

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