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preposterous (pri-POS-tuhr-uhs) adjective

Nonsensical, absurd.

[From Latin praeposterus (inverted, literally: first coming last), from prae (before) + posterus (coming after).]

"Sane and rational people have been willing to overlook the obvious and believe the most preposterous things, rather than face the truth."
Do We Need a Recount or a Shrink?; Taipei Times (Taiwan); Mar 29, 2004.

"This could be further evidence that the call by the opposition for the funding of political parties is not preposterous. After all the practice is an accepted norm in older and mature democracies around the world."
Time To Fund Political Parties; Mmegi (Gaborone, Botswana); Mar 22, 2004.

This week's guest wordsmith, Dr. Mardy Grothe writes:

I've been systematically collecting self-contradictory words, phrases, and quotations for more than twenty years. The precise term for a concise self-contradictory expression, of course, is oxymoron.

In an oxymoron (like pretty ugly, old news, or sweet sorrow), words that are incompatible or that contradict one another are joined together in a way that ends up making a lot of sense.

A little known fact about an oxymoron is that it is a paradox (technically, a condensed paradox). Paradoxes are fascinating in large part because they are false at one level and true at another. Someone once wisely said, "A paradox is a truth standing on its head to get our attention."

In general, when we come across a paradoxical notion, it arrests out attention and sets our brain cells into motion. I have over 10,000 of these perception-altering gems in my personal collection, all of which I include under the rubric "Oxymoronica."

This week we examine words and phrases that are false yet true.

(Dr. Mardy Grothe is a psychologist, author, and avid quotation collector. His new book Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History's Greatest Wordsmiths was recently published by HarperResource. For more, go to: oxymoronica.com.)


To give pleasure to a single heart by a single kind act is better than a thousand head-bowings in prayer. -Saadi, poet (c. 1200 AD)

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