Small contradictions in terms can lead to big misunderstandings, or at least to some confusion.
I am a wordsmith. I love words. I love learning new words and using them in conversation and writing, without trying to be ostentatious. (How’s that for a fancy word?) I enjoy puns and plays on words. All one needs to do is ask my children. All through their school years, in addition to their assigned school work, I would give them a list of vocabulary words each week. We would go over the words at dinner. They had to learn the definitions, use the words in sentences, and be able to spell them. Then I would quiz them at the end of the week. Personally, I think it was a great idea. They do not appear to have suffered any irreparable damage. I am not sure they were so thrilled, but hey! it was in their best interest. Kind of like being given cod liver oil as a child. Nasty, but good for you. Or so I hear. I was blessed not to have to find out through my own experience.
To be sure, I am not a wordmonger. This is someone who uses words in a pretentious manner or uses words without regard to their true meanings. I may be a true pen snob as I will only use certain pens for writing (and don’t touch my pens, please), but I am not a word snob. I do appreciate proper grammar and spelling.
In light of the fact that some words used together can be misleading, I would like to share a few that have gotten my attention. Perhaps you can help me figure out what is really meant.
Starting out with Shakespeare’s famous line: “To be or not to be? That is the question.” I don’t think that is much of a question. Either you are or you aren’t. Either you are alive or you are dead. I have no problem choosing. I want to be alive, and for a long time, too, thank you very much. I wonder if there is a relationship between this dilemma and Michael Jackson singing that he didn’t know if he was black or white?
How about a title of an album by Led Zeppelin called “In the Out Door?” Generally, if a person goes in the wrong door, he/she will likely get smacked in the face. Especially if the door is one that opens and closes automatically. Can you say, “OUCH!?” I strongly advocate reading the door sign to make sure the correct entry and exit are chosen. Much safer that way.
I remember seeing the next statement in an old MAD Magazine. My brothers loved those magazines. For the most part I thought they were pretty bad. However, there was a cartoon that caught my eye, and has stuck with me since. The drawing depicts a woman who is yacking away with her mouth open wide while the dentist is trying to do an oral exam. She has all of these dental implements in her mouth and is still talking. Finally the dentist yells at her, “Open your mouth and shut your mouth!” I do get the joke and it is pretty funny. A definite oxymoron. Is it possible to do both simultaneously? It does make me wonder if real life dentists have ever had to say that to patients.
Now along this same line comes an experience I had with the respiratory therapist who was fitting me for my CPAP mask. When I first got the machine, he “measured” my face, and he fitted me with an extra small full face mask. I know you haven’t seen my picture, but let me be honest (or as the new buzz word says – “transparent”) when I say that I do not have a small face. Attached to this face is one rather large Hungarian nose and some plump cheeks. The therapist was the expert so I figured he knew what he was doing. I tried this mask for several nights and I felt like I was up most of the night pulling it down to cover my mouth.
I went back to see the same fellow and asked him for the nose pillow that goes only over the nose. It was fairly comfortable, but I would wake up with my mouth wide open. I said to myself, “Self, this can’t be right. The air is going in my nose, but since on occasion I am a mouth breather, I think the positive pressure is going out of my open mouth. I don’t think this is helping my sleep apnea.” I go back a 3rd time and explain my concerns. Now here is where the “open your mouth, shut your mouth” thing comes in to play. He tells me that I am just going to have to learn to sleep with my mouth closed! Huh? How does that work? I should have asked him how this was done. If I am deep in REM sleep and dreaming about the wealthy hunk of my dreams or finally living peacefully all alone in a cottage by the sea, I am going to be totally relaxed. I am not going to be awake enough to tell myself to close my mouth! I am pretty gullible, but not stupid. So I went back to the XS mask, until I decided on my own to ask for the next size up. It works perfectly. And for those moments when I am in REM sleep saving the world and my mouth is gaping open, I am still getting the benefit of CPAP therapy. So there, guy!
Here is a book title: Big Little Lies. I was always taught that a little lie is still a lie, a bad thing. The nuns told me that a white lie is as big and evil as a “black” or big lie. You lie, you go to the benighted regions of Sheol. So, how do a big and little lie work together? Giving it some thought, I tried to come up with something feasible. How’s this? Let’s say I stole 200 dollars from my sister, squirreled it away in my bra as I made my escape. Later she asks me if I know anything about her money. I tell her I don’t know anything whatsoever (the Big Lie), and I tell her I think she must have misplaced it (the Little Lie). Somehow no matter the size of the lie, this big/little thing doesn’t wash.
The new buzz word in the business world is “transparency,” or “transparent.” I thought a transparency was one of those clear sheets that the teacher puts on an overhead projector during a math lecture. She writes horrible calculus problems on it while the students look at them in total bewilderment. Now, however, we are being asked to be transparent. Honestly, that is not a good look on me. I try very carefully to hide my muffin top. I don’t want it visible to people. I would be totally humiliated. However, I have been made aware of the current use of the word(s). The word no longer means see through, but is now the new word to mean totally honest and above approach. Thank goodness for the new definition. Now I can keep my muffin top to myself.
And last but not least, I will leave this conundrum of opposite words to you all to figure out. What about the Battle of the Little Big Horn? Did one side announce the commencement of the battle with a big bugle and the opposing side use a small one? Or which river were they close to, the Little Horn or the Big Horn? And where is this exactly? When someone figures it out, please enlighten me. My brain has gone to sleep. It is way past my 8 PM (ha!) bedtime.
Have any of you run into any oxymoron or contradictory words that have had you puzzled? I’d love to hear about them.
Happy Thinking and Have a Great Week!