Singing silent songs
of long warm days returning,
bee and bloom duet.
In vernal pools near bare trees,
spring peepers chant the chorus.
Yes, the title of this blog is an oxymoron. (More on oxymorons shortly.) This blog will touch on many things in life and language, but only when I think I have something to add to whatever has already been said. I will try to be humorous w/o being too flippant and serious w/o being too solemn. Some posts will end with haiku poems, as this one does.
Oxymorons can be a quick and colorful way to designate something with an unusual (but not really contradictory) mix of characteristics. In American politics in the 1850-s, Stephen A Douglas was called the “Little Giant” because he was both short and influential. Some other examples: equal and opposite; fried ice cream; libertarian paternalism; love-hate relationship; passive-aggressive; tough love; virtual reality.
Tho I cannot be mellow and curmudgeonly simultaneously, I can shift quickly from one to the other when considering different aspects of something. Before giving an example, let me issue two disclaimers: I am not in the shall/will crowd and do not fit neatly into any common political category. I do not hassle people who violate silly rules invented long ago by prigs with too much free time. When I gripe about a misuse of language, it is because I see a substantial hindrance to communication. When I take an example from politics, it is not part of a rant that has already been repeated thousands of times.
Living languages do change, often getting better and sometimes getting worse. One change for the worse that may be happening now is the use of “legitimate” as a synonym for “genuine” or “actual” (in addition to its legitimate uses). This usage is not in my printed dictionary from 2005 or in the online Wictionary entry last updated in 2014, but I have heard it ominously often. In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin was vilified as a cruel misogynist for using the oxymoronic phrase “legitimate rape” (which illustrates why misusing “legitimate” is such a bad idea). My initial reaction to the oxymoron by itself was mellow: Akin is just a linguistic slob who said “legitimate” when he meant “genuine” during his pseudoscientific riff on whether a rape that causes a pregnancy could really be a rape.
On the other hand, I am old enough to remember when willful ignorance or distortion of relevant facts was frowned upon. It did happen (perhaps more often than a curmudgeon’s memory of the good old days will admit). Among legislators, it tended to come only from certain people on certain subjects. Akin’s reliance on a physiological fantasy to avoid dealing with the implications of a policy position struck me as emblematic of a serious general decline in intellectual honesty. Nowadays, pols and pundits launch outrageous factoids faster than fact checkers can sink them. Harrumph! So I contributed what little I could to the campaign of Akin’s opponent. Tho I still do not believe Akin really meant what his oxymoron said, I am glad he is not in the US Senate. Truth matters.