Oxymorons: quirky but useful phrases combining two contradictory ideas. We find them everywhere: TV series (“The Walking Dead”), menu items (“Jumbo Shrimp”), technological advances (“Virtual Reality”), and newspapers (“small crowd” and “open secret”). They enable description of the complexities of human behaviour (“passive-aggressive”) and help us poke fun at institutions (“military intelligence” and “airline food”). They may be best known in humour (e.g. Andy Warhol’s “I am a deeply superficial person”).
George Orwell’s Novel 1984 shows another use for oxymorons . He argues that they allow the powerful to alter basic concepts and thus people’s thinking: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” are the key phrases for the totalitarian government he describes. Vigilance is needed against this more sinister use of the humble oxymoron. A case in point is the term “executive pastor”. Some argue it is a useful role. Could it be, however, that the corporation and its ethos of managerial power and hierarchy is intruding into too many spheres of life? Someone apparently said to his team when reviewing the managerial systems of their day: “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.“