Is ‘Military Intelligence’ an oxymoron?
Is ‘streamlined government’ an oxymoron?
No, no, despite the insistence of wits and wags none of these expressions are oxymorons.
Well then give an example of a true oxymoron.
Still as they run they look behind,
They hear a voice in every wind,
And snatch a fearful joy.
His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true
The idea is that each of those opposed terms standing singly seems to exclude the other so when they are conjoined in the one expression have a striking and arresting effect which moreover suggests a sense on a higher plane as it were. ‘Military’ and ‘Intelligence’ standing separately do not exclude each other. There is nothing about the idea of streamlining which excludes the idea of government. How about Morrissey’s Autobiography being an instant classic? This is an oxymoron as would ‘unrecognised classic’ or ‘unknown classic’might also be. When a book has the status of classic the implication is that it has been accepted as important by authoritative critics over an extended period of time. Could Morrissey’s book unread by any of the general public be regarded as a classic?
What about the (Penguin) Modern Classics series? That seems a a contradiction in terms which I think it is but it is also a true oxymoron. Some books seem to be raised into the classic status by acclamation practically immediately. There is no need to canonise them. They create the taste by which they are to be judged as Coleridge remarked (reported by Wordsworth in a letter):
These people in the senseless hurry of their idle lives do not read books, they merely snatch a glance at them that they may talk about them. And even if this were not so, never forget what I believe was observed by Coleridge, that every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.
From Wordsworth’s Preface to the Poem (1815)
And where lies the real difficulty of creating that taste by which a truly original poet is to be relished? Is it in breaking the bonds of custom, in overcoming the prejudices of false refinement, and displacing the aversions of inexperience?