“It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense.” MARK TWAIN
By Alex P. Vidal
A US-based psychologist, who deals with problems including the art of the insult, has coined a new vocabulary which we won’t find in any dictionary (at least not yet): oxymoronica.
In his book (I bought for only $6; original price is $14.95 plus tax on a sale day in the Barnes and Noble bookseller in California in November 2012), Dr. Mardy Grothe described it as containing “paradoxical wit and wisdom from history’s greatest wordsmiths.”
Grothe did actually define oxymoronica in the book: “(OK-se-mor-ON-uh-ca) noun, plural: Any variety of tantalizing, self-contradictory statements or observations that on the surface appear false or illogical, but at a deeper level are true, often profoundly true. See also oxymoron, paradox.
Examples: “Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.” Victor Hugo;
“To lead the people, walk behind them.” Lao-tzu; “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.” Dolly Parton.
Grothe introduced “oxymoronica” to readers in the delightful collection of 1,400 of the most provocative quotations of all time.
“From ancient thinkers like Confucius, Aristotle, and Saint Augustine to great writers like Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and G.B. Shaw to modern social observers like Woody Allen and Lily Tomlin, Oxymoronica celebrates the power and beauty of paradoxical thinking,” wrote Grothe.
“All areas of human activity are explored, including love, sex and romance, politics, the arts, the literary life, and, of course, marriage and family life.”
He added: “The wise and witty observations in this book are as highly entertaining as they are intellectually nourishing and are sure to grab the attention of language lovers everywhere.”
He came up with the word in the early 1990s when he was working on his 1999 book Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You.
“A new word invention is formally called a neologism, and my dream is that oxymoronica will one day show up in a dictionary (and given the meaning “a group or collection of oxymoronic and paradoxical quotations”),” Grothe explained.
According to Grothe, The Never Let a Fool Kiss You book introduced people to the fascinating literary device known as chiasmus (ky-AZ-mus).
“Chiasmus occurs when the order of words is reversed in parallel phrases, as in Cicero’s ‘One should eat to live, not live to eat’ or Mae West’s ‘It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men,’” he explained.
He revealed that even though chiasmus shows up in some of the world’s most famous sayings (like John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” line), the term is not well known, even among sophisticated and highly literate people.
“While compiling quotations for my Never Let a Fool Kiss You book, I kept running into many other quotations that I loved, but that didn’t fit into the chiasmus theme. Some of the most fascinating quotes captured my interest because they had one special thing in common—they contained either a contradiction in terms or a contradiction in ideas:
“Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.”
“Free love is too expensive.”
“I must be cruel only to be kind.”
“A yawn is a silent shout.”
“Man is condemned to be free.”
“To lead the people, walk behind them.”
As his collection of these kinds of quotes slowly grew from a few dozen to a few hundred, and then burgeoned from a few hundred to a few thousand, he needed a word to describe them.
Some contained a classical oxymoron (like silent shout) and others a classical paradox (like cruel only to be kind).
But simply calling them oxymoronic or paradoxical didn’t come close to capturing their collective magic.
“Then, one cold winter day in the early 1990s, I found myself looking up the word erotica in the dictionary. I knew what the word meant, but wanted to get a precise definition. Very quickly, the entry on erotica took me to another familiar word with the same suffix: exotica,” Grothe narrated.
“Both words referred to collections of things, especially things that hold a particular fascination or interest. Just like that, a word popped into my mind.
“Oxymoronica. I tried the word out on a number of friends and it almost always brought a smile to their faces. I knew I was on to something.”