Anodynes and Oxymorons


An unforgettable scene in the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close shows Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks ) and his son Oskar (Thomas Horn) engaging in one of their oxymoron wars. An oxymoron (derived from the Greek terms oxy, meaning sharp, and moros, meaning dull) is a combination of contradictory terms to add flourish or emphasis to one’s speech or written work.

While practicing some martial arts moves, father and son try to upstage each other with these verbal shots:

deafening silence
original copies
found missing
clearly confused
living dead
almost exactly
genuine imitation
accidentally on purpose
jumbo shrimp

In the movie, Thomas uses oxymoron wars to teach his son the more profound aspects of life. They have many endearing moments together and they become so close, rendering mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) a virtual outsider.

The encounters between mother and son after Thomas’s death depict the bitter sweet (another oxymoron :-)) reality about children and parenting.  Kahlil Gibran’s lines ring so true:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

While contradictory, these lines do not constitute an oxymoron but a paradox. Sadly, not just a figure of speech, but a fact of life.


His in-your-face commentary on popular issues makes F Sionil Jose (no period after “F”) a must-read for me on Sundays. In one of his latest articles, however, it was how the National Artist for Literature used certain expressions, more than his no-holds-barred style that caught my attention. This was one of them:

“I await her imperious entrance with baited breath.”

Why ‘baited’ and not ‘bated’? Was it a typo, an intentional error (another one for the oxy list), or did someone change the rule while I was sleeping?

One website has this input:

“The correct spelling is actually bated breath but it’s so common these days to see it written as baited breath that there’s every chance that it will soon become the usual form, to the disgust of conservative speakers and the confusion of dictionary writers.”

Another forum claimed ‘bated’ is correct and offered this explanation:

“Bated is an abbreviation of abated and means lessened or restrained. In the case of breath, it means held.  If you’re waiting for something with bated breath, that means you’re holding your breath.

If, on the other hand, you’re waiting with baited breath, it might mean that you’ve got a sardine in your mouth and you’re trying to lure a cat. Because bait is something used to catch something else.”

And the other attention grabber:

Alas, as that ancient anodyne goes, “It only hurts when we laugh.”

Anodyne. Anodyne. The meaning escapes me. Must be a new figure of speech.

But no. It is what it is. Something that relieves pain. Pain caused by some public figures and the tragicomedy (oxy alert!) that is the ongoing CJ Impeachment Trial.

I hope I won’t need one when the sessions resume.


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