There once was a very accurate car sticker which proclaimed that the car was “Designed by Computer; Built by a Robot; Driven by a Moron” and no doubt there will be many today in this country who may well wish to hand out this sticker to others on the road.
The term ‘moron’, in psychological terms was used to define “low intelligence and behavioural deviance”, coming from the Greek word, ‘moros’ which meant ‘foolish’.
Later it was seen as a casual slur, used to indicate someone being unwise, but it is nowadays in fact deemed as a derogatory and discriminatory insult.
It is interesting that another Greek word, ‘oxy’, meaning ‘sharp’, has been added to the word ‘moron’ to form the word ‘oxymoron’, thus, it would appear, to take the meaning of ‘sharp foolishness or dullness’.
In other words, the word ‘oxymoron’ is in itself an oxymoron which is defined as “a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposite meanings within a word or phrase that is a self-contradiction”.
In fact, we use them all the time in daily life: we speak of “same difference,” “original copy”, “almost exactly”, “only choice” and “deafening silence,” all for greater effect.
It is good to have oxymorons!
Like euphemisms that we considered in a previous article, oxymorons can be made to be funny. Dolly Parton is quoted, in a gentle ‘dig’ at herself, as saying that “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap” while in a similar vein Mark Twain stated that “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
- Foxy moron
Samuel Goldwyn claimed that “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”; and who said, “I distinctly remember forgetting that”?
However, they can also be distinctly serious and sad.
Romeo, in Shakespeare’s play, strings together thirteen in a row, as he cries out over his frustrations, starting with "Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!" and including “Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!”
He was seriously mixed up emotionally, with the oxymorons only emphasising that.
We may recall Simon and Garfunkel famously sang about the “The Sound of Silence” while Fall Out Boy sang, “Alone Together”.
We are not confused; we are clear and accurate and deliberate.
Oxymorons, like euphemisms, can also be clever — we might even say, oxymoronically, “seriously funny” or alternatively see them, paradoxically, as “foolish wisdom”.
Whatever the case, an oxymoron is not only a figure of speech but a fact of life and life is full of contradictions and mix ups.
We considered previously how parents want qualifications for their child but do not look for qualifications in their future employees.
Children often say they want freedom but inwardly long for boundaries.
Oxymorons, sure, but not morons — not even foxy morons (which is another oxymoron).
Oxymorons can also actually teach us a great deal about education.
Education, like life, can be full of apparent paradoxes and contradictions, not least when we come to consider children’s intelligence and behaviour.
Society, schools, parents even, are quick to label children who are weaker academically with all sorts of unfavourable and unacceptable terms.
Indeed, as we considered before, we try to soften the blow by using euphemisms, even though everyone knows what is meant by them – it is almost as if we are using coded language, to hide our secret view.
However, the greatest oxymoron perhaps in education is when we end up juxtaposing the brighter children and the weaker ones, the popular ones and the unpopular ones. There is the well-known and regularly proven statement that the C streamers end up employing the A streamers (who were both taught by the B streamers). We are the ones with lower intelligence if we think that children who are weaker academically are less important, less worthy, less valuable.
are the ones who have behavioural deviance if we dismiss such children as being useless and unemployable.
It is seriously funny that we do not see this; perhaps we forget remembering this important point.
Our education system will be “Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms” if we ignore the truth of it.
As we use oxymorons all the time so we can use both the bright and the weak all the time.
We may have all the computers and the robots but who is driving this?
This is no joke. Remember: oxymorons are clever.
They make a lot of sense. So too do our children, all of them.
We can enjoy them too!
l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.