November 01, 2002

A Small Crowd of Oxymorons



A Small Crowd of Oxymorons

An oxymoron (оксюморон) is an idiom that is, according to the original Greek, “pointedly foolish.” It unites two incompatible notions or properties, usually in the form of an adjective plus a noun, and Russian is full of them. For example: горькая сладость (bitter sweetness), or тёмное освещение (dark lightness). Speaking of lightness, there is the phrase он испытывал лёгкую тяжесть в ногах (he felt a light heaviness in his legs).

There are several which have perfect American counterparts, like небольшая толпа, which finds a parallel in the American oxymoron “small crowd.” Another classic is the expression cекрет полишинеля (literally “puppet’s secret,” but best translated as “open secret”).

There are also some purely Russian oxymorons: Я тебе по-хорошему завидую (I envy you in a good way). The very notion that there could be хорошая зависть (good envy) is an oxymoron by definition. It is kind of like a twist on that double oxymoron: “a bad peace is better than a good war.”


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