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Sometimes you've just got to ask why

Act natural even if you’re clearly confused. It’s a definite maybe that this editorial is heading off on a bittersweet trip through the deafening silence that typically greets the amazingly awful world of oxymorons — phrases, like “military intelligence,” that appear mutually contradictory.

Take Labor Day, for example — a day when just about the only labor performed is the collection of summer yard-work tasks put off until it was almost too late in the season.

Or consider, as school is getting in full swing, honor rolls. If an honor is supposed to be an unusual distinction, why do some schools put more than half of their students on their honor rolls? Failing to make the list might perversely be more of a distinction.

It’s kind of like all those students and others who “win” second, third, and even 39th place. “Won” and “one” are pronounced the same, but no longer does only one win.

There is, of course, reasonable justification for all of this. That’s probably something to talk about on social media, which allows participants to avoid interacting with anyone they don’t know — except, of course, to portray them in hateful, antisocial terms.

Words change, of course. “Presidential,” for example, at one time had nothing to do with holding any particular office. It meant befitting of dignity and respect — qualities that U.S. presidents seldom exude and may at times not deserve.

It’s kind of like how “commissioner” derives from words meaning “bringing together,” though in actual practice most commissioners nowadays seem to be anything but unifying figures — even though they did give us a brief respite this week from bickering by canceling their weekly county meeting.

Originally, counties weren’t separate political divisions. They were fiefdoms ruled by counts — companions, what we’d now call cronies, of a monarch overseeing a larger territory.

Put in charge of everything (not just law enforcement) in these shires were all-powerful people named sheriffs. And the biggest person in a town, hopefully not a town with a huge need for a Weight Watchers chapter, was known as the mayor.

The only political name with a derivation that actually seems to make sense is Congress, which fittingly means both a friendly meeting and a hostile encounter, both derived from words that originally meant walking together — sometimes in step, sometimes not.

All of which is to say that this week in the news was neither sharp (oxy) nor dull (moron). That’s not particularly good for a newspaper, the very name of which indicates it is devoted to conveying what’s new and different — the unexpected stories that we seek to provide every week.

But sometimes, especially in holiday weeks, it’s good to have some time to simply reflect, as was the goal for an apocryphal essay exam at the conclusion of a doctoral-level college philosophy course.

After passing out multi-page essay exam “blue books” to students, a professor informed students they had three hours to compose an answer to the final exam question, which would be written on a whiteboard.

Students ferociously wrote for the entire three-hour period, filling their exam booklets with all manner of references to existential philosophies and the great philosophers of history: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descarte, Locke and others.

In the end, only two passing grades were awarded.

The question was simple: “Why?”

A one-word answer earned an A: “Because.”

A two-word answer earned a B: “Why not?”

One wonders, in a week in which commissioners gave us a Labor Day break from their normal banter, which if any of the students made the honor roll.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Sept. 5, 2019

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