[ROSTRUM]Love and its contradictionsA form of figure of speech used frequently in English is the oxymoron. My English-Korean dictionary translates it as a “contradictory figurative expression,” emphasizing a situation with contradictory words. For instance, when former President Park Chung Hee was assassinated, the New York Times headline was “A small giant dies.” The truth in this oxymoron was that while President Park was physically small, his power and influence were gigantic. Though the images are contradictory, their use together is not at all awkward, and has the effect of drawing readers’ attention. Another oxymoron is “stupid genius,” referring to those who, like Albert Einstein, are bad at things that ordinary people are good at, but display genius in certain fields. “Open secret,” a phrase in common use, is another example.
When I encounter expressions that can be used in class as examples of figures of speech, I take note of them. I found an interesting one on television a few days ago. I don’t know the title of the program, but it involved experts from various fields solving the problems of a needy family together. This week, they tried to help Jin-ho, a 5th-grade boy with disabled parents.
Jin-ho, who was very small for his age, had once seemed healthy, but his disability had gradually surfaced, his arms and legs beginning to bend. A child psychiatrist interviewed the boy, who seemed gloomy and silent. The doctor asked him whether his heart ached because he was disabled. Jin-ho answered that he had always been heavy-hearted. Asked to draw a picture, he drew a house and a tree. When the doctor asked him what the tree felt, Jin-ho immediately answered, “It is lonely, so it is sad.”
The experts on the program recommended to Jin-ho’s parents, who seldom left the house, that they join in social activities as other parents do. Jin-ho’s disabled father began to look for a job, for his son’s benefit. The family also went bowling together. The father had been a good bowler in his youth, but his skills had deteriorated; at best, he would knock down five or six of the 10 pins. When his score turned out to be very low, Jin-ho’s mother said to her son, with an embarrassed expression, “Your father didn’t do a good job, did he?”
Jin-ho answered, with his eyes wide open: “No, he didn’t do well, but he did very well.” His answer was an oxymoron, in the sense that his father’s objective score was not good, but the subjective score of the father he loved was very good.
Come to think of it, the remarks the master of ceremonies made last week at a meeting of an organization for the disabled were another oxymoron: “We cannot see but can see, and we cannot hear but can hear. Although we cannot see with our eyes, we can see the joy of others, and share the joy with the eye of our heart. Although we cannot hear with our ears, we can hear the pain of others, and share the pain with the ear of our heart.”
By the end of the television program, Jin-ho had made friends and looked much happier, thanks to the careful concern of people around him. Jin-ho’s command of oxymorons remained in my memory. But strictly speaking, all of us may be just as gifted when it comes to oxymorons. People who are able and who are not, people who can see and who cannot, people who are happy and who are sad ― all of us are outwardly different, but manage to live well together, complementing and helping each other, little by little.
* The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chang Young-hee
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