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    Oxymore, Not Less

    The ancient Greeks, those witty chaps, made their term for an oxymoron…an oxymoron! The word means “sharp dullness”—referring to “cleverly stupid,” not “old knife that can give you tetanus.”

    That etymology helps us understand why bipartisanship fails in Congress these days. In a democracy, “partisanship” means “along party lines.” As in, “I’m voting for this even though it doesn’t make any sense, simply because I’m a (circle one) Democrat/Republican.” “Bi,” when not used by adolescent males, means “two.” Put them together and the meaning becomes, “People who detest each other singing ‘Kumbaya’ for the cameras.” When people go beyond party lines and actually accomplish something—I’m old enough to remember when that actually happened in Washington—the effort is not bipartisan but nonpartisan. The oxymoron makes for a nice parlor game, the winner being the person who comes up with the most apt one.


    Airline food

    Military intelligence (Groucho Marx coined this one, of course.)

    Open secret

    Microsoft Works

    Free love

    Jumbo shrimp

    Pretty ugly

    Undeclared voter

    Continental breakfast (hardly continent-sized)

    Compassionate conservative

    Pragmatic idealist


    You may see some stereotype flipping here: Microsoft is infamous for its klugey software. To consider “free love” an oxymoron, you have to think of love in typically cynical terms. The oxymoron often flips stereotypes. You can, too, by listening for terms that contradict commonly accepted notions of a subject.

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