Oxymoron – the birthplace of brilliant


Jeanine McDonnell, daughter of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, says that her mother has a “mild obsession” with another man.

Mild lives in detergent adverts. Obsession gets draped around designer perfume. Put the two words together however and you get something that’s… well… kind of interesting. It’s refined and yet ever so slightly dirty. It’s an oxymoron, and in politics, oxymorons get a bad wrap.

Politicians will cry “oxymoron” in the same way that English footballers cry “foul” – usually as a cheap way to distract the referee.  The president, for example, was excoriated from the right for the oxymoron of “Leading from behind”, while Sarah Palin took a rough-ride from the left when she mentioned “Conservative feminism”.

Look past the mockery though and maybe there are some interesting ideas being deliberately driven into the shadows by that accusation of the “O” word.

What would a Conservative Feminist actually be like? And how about if stopped to give “Leading from behind” a little of the consideration that John Boehner clearly doesn’t want us to?

Is the cry of “Oxymoron” meant to embarrass us into burying ideas before they’ve even taken their first steps?

Oxymorons aren’t fouls. They’re verbal spice. Oxymorons gave us the most delicious phrase in the English language – “sweet and sour’, which became especially flavourful when combined with the oxymoronic “jumbo shrimp”. Does double the oxymoron equal double the delicious? Definitely maybe.

Oxymorons ever so slightly screw with accepted realities. They slam the right combination of the wrong words together in such a way that can open up whole new lines of thought. Entrenched political interests usually dislike new thoughts, and maybe that’s why oxymorons launch witch-hunts.

Let’s take the phrase “religious freedom”. To a non-believer this is a clear oxymoron – the prescribing of life based on religious dogma is far from freedom. To a believer however, life lived by religious code is not only the direct path to freedom in this world, but also in the next.

Oxymorons tamper with established meanings in a way that can deliciously subversive and that’s why proscriptivists of all stripes hold them in such contempt.

So, long live Conservative Feminism, and here’s to Leading From Behind. Oxymoron is the glorious birthplace of brand-new concepts. The next time you hear somebody levelling the political charge of “OXYMORON”, then find out what it is they’re attacking, and give that very concept some extra thought.

You might find that they’re trying to distract you from something rather interesting.

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