• oxymoron •
Pronunciation: ahk-si-mo-rahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A phrase or compound word containing two words that are ostensibly semantic opposites, such as "a long brief" or "hot ice".
Notes: No, this word does not refer to someone who is as moronic as an ox; the meaning above is the correct one. The adjective for this word is oxymoronic and the adverb oxymoronically. Try using the pedantic plural oxymora instead of oxymorons; it really impresses people.
In Play: When Judy Side came in wearing tight slacks, her friend Lotta Noyes (who was wearing loose tights), turned to me and said, "Good Grief! When Judy and I are alone together, things can get pretty ugly." When these two go out to eat boneless ribs or jumbo shrimp, they often end up in a friendly argument with the wait staff, especially if they are served hard water in plastic glasses. (How many oxymora can you count in this little story?)
Word History: Today's Good Word is most appropriately an oxymoron itself; it least it was in Greek. Greek oxymoron is made up of oxys "sharp, acid" and moros "dull, stupid", the source of the English word moron. Greek oxys is also found in oxygen. It is akin to Latin acus "needle", whose root we see in acute, acuity, and acupuncture. The original Proto-Indo-European root ak- "needle" came to the Germanic languages as something like agjo, which developed into Old Norse eggja "to needle, egg on". During one of the friendly Viking visits to England from the 9th through the 11th centuries, English borrowed this word for its verb to egg (on). The word was already in English, but with a different pronunciation: today's edge. (We are grateful to David Ross for suggesting today's fine word without our having to egg him.)