WOTD: pretty

Pretty is a funny word. By funny I don’t mean ‘haha’ funny but ‘weird’ funny. Come to think of it, funny is a funny word too and thus it may appear in a future WOTD post. But pretty is a funny word because it has more than one rhetorical meaning.

It’s primarily defined as an adjective that describes something aesthetically pleasing in appearance.For example: Those flowers are pretty. See how the word pretty as an adjective clearly modifies the plural noun flowers.

However, today’s word has a secondary rhetorical function as an adverb, which has much the same meaning as the words: very, really, quite and other similar words.

(This is where the funny part comes in.)

Since the word pretty can be used as an adverbial modifier, this means that the phrasal adjective “pretty ugly” makes perfect rhetorical sense and it is not at all an oxymoron. Even though it definitely looks like one.

Word of the Day: oxymoron

Today’s word is one of my favorite words in the English language. An oxymoron is not a stupid person (or a stupid ox), but a rhetorical device in which the words that make it up are expressed in a seemingly incongruous or contradictory manner. This is sometimes done deliberately for dramatic effect, i.e.: gentle violence.

The oxymoron can be used for dramatic or ironic emphasis and thus it is often found in poetry, such as in Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:

The sun was shining on the sea.
Shining with all his might.
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright.
And this was odd because it was
The middle of the night.

The reader knows that it doesn’t make any sense for the sun to be shining brightly with all his might in the middle of the night, and that’s why this opening stanza is so effective. That and Carroll’s over all poetic brilliance, of course.

There are many different types of oxymorons and Wikipedia does a good job of explaining what they are.  I particularly enjoy the inadvertent oxymorons, which are basically rhetorical mistakes people have made in speech or writing, and they didn’t even realize what they just said or wrote. Examples include:

original copy
extremely average
definite possibility
objective opinion

Some of the above examples have been used so often that one might not even be aware that they don’t actually make any rhetorical sense.

Bye for now.