Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Tool For Wordsmiths: Mini-Review of “Oxymoronica” by Dr. Mardy Grothe

I have always found words to be marvelous tools, weapons or playthings – depending on who is wielding them and in what tone of voice. I marvelous at those who have the talent to express time-tested ideas in new and entertaining ways. So, I was delighted to find this little gem, written by Dr. Mardy Grothe: Oxymoronica – Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths. This HarperCollins book will be added to my bookshelf of hand reference works.

According to Dr. Grothe’s own definition, “oxymoronica” are: “Any variety of tantalizing, self-contradictory statements or observations that on the surface appear false or illogical, but at a deeper level are true, often profoundly true.”

The author has been collecting memorable quotations for many years, and out of the tens of thousands in his collection, he chose two hundred pages worth that best represent the art of verbal paradox.

I could share quotations from every page that are worth passing on, but in order to keep this mini-review from become too “maxi,” I will share only a few quotations culled from my favorite authors.

From Dickens – the immortal opening passage to A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
It was the epoch of believe, it was the epoch of incredulity,
It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
It was the spring of hope, it was the spring of despair,
We had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
We were all going direct to Heaven,
We were all going direct the other way.”
(Page 197)

From Dickens Bleak House:

“He is an honorable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly reasonable man.”
(Page 205)

From Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground:

“In despair there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one’s position.”

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering.”
(Page 200)

From Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye:

“As in the case of many misanthropes, his disdain for people led him into a profession designed to serve them.”
(Page 201)

From Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard:

“When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it can’t be cured.”
(Page 204)

Joseph Heller, in Catch-22, is a veritable fount of oxymoronic wit and wisdom:

“Even amongst men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him where always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”

“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days, no one could stand him.”

Heller – in Something Happened:

“When I grow up I want to be a little boy.”
(Page 207)

From Aldous Huxley in Point Counter Point:

“Several excuses are always less convincing than one.”
(Page 208)

Washington Irving in Bracebridge Hall:

“Whenever a man’s friends begin to compliment him about looking young, he may be sure that they think he is growing old.”
(Page 208)

Edgar Allan Poe in The Purloined Letter:

“The best place to hide anything is in plain view.”
(Page 211)

George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman:

“The most unbearable pain is produced by prolonging the keenest pleasure.”

Another Shavian gem, from Heartbreak House:

“The surest way to ruin a man who doesn’t know how to handle money is to give him some.”
(Page 212)

Finally, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle:

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away form them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.”
(Page 212)

This is a book you can read in one sitting, and then will return to again and again for inspiration and delight.

In keeping with the spirit of the book, let me conclude: “This little volume is a quick snack that will feed you for a lifetime!”



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