Merriam's online dictionary describe oxymoron as "the deliberate juxtaposing of seemingly contradictory words." Some of the examples given there, however, don't appear to be deliberate:

"The phrase 'Broadway rock musical' is an oxymoron. Broadway doesn't have the nerve to let the really hard stuff in the house."

I would argue that "Broadway rock musical" isn't an oxymoron, because the term was not meant to be one. If I am correct, and we are to take the word "deliberate" seriously as an element of oxymoron, what do we do call Thurber's "naive domestic Burgundy"? Is it just a "contradiction in terms," or is there a nice Greek word for it?

  • My thanks to those who answered. I'm not sure this website is working correctly. The screen says there are three answers, but I can only see two. Also, I cannot see any comments. A "See 2 more comments" link appeared, but when I clicked on it, nothing happened other than the link disappearing. So, if you left a comment that should have elicited a response, don't take it personally! I'll check back later. – remarkl Feb 6 at 2:35
  • The thing with the comments often happens when someone writes a comment and then quickly changes their mind and deletes it. The "3 answers" I think can also happen if one is deleted. Someone with at least 10000 reputation can see deleted answers if there are any. – Nate Eldredge Feb 6 at 5:30
  • To sate your curiosity and @Nate’s: the deleted answer was just a nonsense string of letters: like what you’d get if someone played a keyboard-controlled racing-car game and recorded the keys they pressed - an extended version of gbgb. – Lawrence Feb 6 at 6:58
  • Is it a (simple unintended) self-contradiction? – Kris Feb 6 at 7:31

The paragraph you're quoting from Merriam-Webster goes on (emphasis mine):

The Greeks exhaustively classified the elements of rhetoric, or effective speech and writing, and gave the name oxymoron, literally "pointed foolishness," to the deliberate juxtaposing of seemingly contradictory words. The roots of oxymoron - oxys, meaning "sharp" or "keen," and moros, meaning "foolish" - are nearly antonyms themselves, making oxymoron nicely self-descriptive. Oxymoron originally applied to a meaningful paradox condensed into a couple of words, as in "precious bane," "lonely crowd," or "sweet sorrow." Today, however, oxymoron can also refer to unintentional contradictions, like "a plastic glass."

So in modern usage, the word oxymoron is just fine to apply to constructions where the contradiction was not intended by the author. There is nothing wrong with Mark Coleman saying "Broadway rock musical" is an oxymoron, so long as Coleman believes it's a contradiction (which he does, and explains why). Indeed, this usage is quite common in criticism, satire, and humor, like the joke, told by Groucho Marx and George Carlin among others, that "military intelligence" is an oxymoron.

You don't need a different word.

  • But I want another word. There is a difference between a literary device and a crash blossom. I am, however, aware that, outside the classroom, the word is almost always used to point out an inadvertent contradiction. Perhaps we need a retronym for the deliberate kind. But if I can drive on the parkway and park on the driveway, I guess I can live with the entropic deprecisioning (anyone got a real word for that?) of our beloved mother tongue, borrowed words and all. – remarkl Feb 6 at 2:29

Unintended, Accidental, Inadvertent, Incidental?

Unintended oxymoron

Customer Waiting Lounge! Why remind me of the way I was expending my time? Why not call it the Customer Lounge? Removal of the word “waiting” implies a much pleasanter experience doesn’t it?

From Wikipedia:

... the term "oxymoron" has also been applied to inadvertent or incidental contradictions ...

Accidental oxymoron works too. I do not think there is an official registry listing for this common occurrence.

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