Monday, June 25, 2007

An Oxymoronic Paradox -- the Wisdom of Yogi-isms

Oxymoron is the juxtaposition of the incongruent---that is, the combination of contradictory or incongruous words for effect; e.g., cruel kindness / jumbo shrimp / benign neglect. We all have fun making lists of what we humorously call oxymorons, like business ethics, military intelligence, and so on.

A paradox is a statement that at first seems false and/or absurd but upon closer examination is found to be true and significant. "You can't set a slave free: You can only set a free man free." "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."

In today's American parlance, there is a new kind of aphorism, called a "Yogi-ism," derived from the many apparently paradoxical yet unexpectedly wise sayings of Yogi Berra, longtime catcher and manager with the New York Yankees, who once said of fall sun conditions in Yankee Stadium's left field, "It gets late awful early out there."
"I never said alot of the things I said," Yogi has explained. In his 2001 book, When You Reach a Fork in the Road, Take It, Yogi expounds on his underlying philosophies of life reflected in memorable quotes like "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future," and "90 percent of this game is half-mental." A few more samples: about a New York restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." About a friend's large home: "What a house! Nothing but rooms!" And, of course, about the vagaries of the last minutes of sports contests: "It ain't over till it's over!"

(For a fairly complete list of Yogi-sms, , click here.)

Fun Fact: Yogi Berra got his nickname from the way he used to sit with his legs crossed, like a yogi. (He may or may not have gotten this nickname from his boyhood friend, fellow major league catcher and longtime TV announcer Joe Garagiola.) The Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear, with a squat body and a tendency for witty aphorisms, was not exactly patterned after Yogi Berra. (For a while, the character's name was going to be Yucca Bear, among a list of 50 or so possibilities.) But Bill Hanna and New York City native Joe Barbera "were definitely aware of Yogi Berra" when they created Yogi Bear, and certainly it was natural to give the cartoon character some commonalities with the famous ballplayer.

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