April 1999
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The Shrub Primer: Oxymorons and Paradoxes


by Jason Morrison

Many people often wonder how to tell the difference between a paradox and an oxymoron. There's no quick and easy rule, like with alligators and crocodiles, but with a few examples I think I can show that anyone can tell the two apart.

Oxymorons are phrases that, though used often, contradict themselves. Examples include "jumbo shrimp," "real imitation leather," and "military intelligence." Notice that oxymorons always consist of at least two words; that's a good way to tell if something is an oxymoron.

The best rule of thumb is to look at the first word and then the second and see if they mean two completely different things. Keep in mind they must be opposites-"red" and "coat" mean two different things, but "red coat" is not an oxymoron. Other correct examples include "icy hot," "hottie-coldy," "second baseman" and "Michael Jackson's Thriller."

Paradoxes are much, much different, in that they often require many words, even a whole paragraph to explain them. Paradoxes are much more dangerous than oxymorons. Many movies have been made about paradoxes destroying the universe but none about oxymorons hurting even one person even a little.

The best source for information about paradoxes is Star Trek. Counting both the original series and the next generation, the crew of the Enterprise have destroyed well over 200 computers, robots and androids by using paradoxes. Paradoxes might confuse people, but they outright destroy robots. Here's one example.

	Kirk to robot: "Mudd always lies.  He never tells the truth."
	Mudd:  "I'm lying right now."
	Hot Android Chicks: [are broken].

Did you catch the paradox? If Mudd always lies, then when he says he's lying, he must be telling the truth. But he can't tell the truth, so he must be lying, in which case he was telling the truth about lying in the first place. It is easy to see how computers and robots are easily destroyed by such things. Some might think another paradox is: why did the androids believe Kirk if they were trying to capture him? Couldn't he have just said, "All androids are now broken" to the same effect? The answer is: that is not a paradox.

There are many more examples of this same thing. When the next generation crew found a lost Borg that they named Hugh, they planned to send him back to the collective with a geometric figure that is a paradox. They showed it on a screen for a second, but I didn't get a good look at it, so we'll just have to take Geordi's word on it this time.

Please don't confuse paradoxes with the two other ways of destroying robots, computers and androids: getting them to fall in love or smashing them. There have been numerous cases of Kirk getting android women to fall in love with him so they spark, shudder and malfunction. Also, one time a maniacal computer had the ship trapped and Kirk asked it, "what is love?" and it broke because it was not a human being with thoughts and feelings, but a machine. In the next generation we found out that even father-daughter love can destroy androids when Data created his daughter, Lol. She loved her dad and then died. Luckily Data didn't have feelings at that point, or he would have probably died too. We know he did not die when he had sex with Tasha Yarr, though she died later and may have been a robot, we'll never know.

And of course there is the ever-popular smashing them. This does not always work-- it's usually a good way to defeat a computer (unless the computer has an impenetrable force field) but quite often does not work against androids. Androids are often much stronger and more resilient than humans so if you've just toppled a bunch of crates onto an android, watch out! He will probably throw one of the crates at you.

I hope this little exercise has been of some help. With more experience, you will find more examples of both. The more examples you find, the more experience you will have with paradoxes and oxymorons. (Did you catch the paradox?)

Aloha! (Which is the only one-word oxymoron, meaning both hello and goodbye).

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