Ambulatory Oxymoron

You don’t have to write literary fiction to justify using figures of speech. Metaphor and oxymoron in China Miéville’s short story.

Death at the lectern; we’d have a lot to learn

Quote: The disappearing body quickly became shorthand. Anything lost was considered pocketed by our ambulatory corpse on its way home. Unexpected noises in the corridors were the incompetent creeping of the revenant.

This is China Miéville’s disappearing body from The Design, published in his collection of short stories Three Moments of an ExplosionA body has disappeared from the dissection room where medical students study anatomy, and we are hearing about the atmosphere that developed thereafter. A morbid setting, but these are students of medicine, who have learned, perforce, to joke about their environment.

What makes the Quote quiver?

Deadpan delivery of compressed paradox.

Caught in the act. Death personified.


In English: we got told straight up that, of all the things a body could become, it became shorthand. Not even a hand, but something a hand produces. Nonsensical, until we reach sentences two and three, which elaborate the point using compressed paradoxes about a corpse with a volition and an eye for the shiny item.

What is at the core of the Quote?

Metaphor and oxymoron.

The students started using the body as shorthand, as a metaphor, for anything strange that happened.

The two other sentences contain oxymorons, compressed paradoxes where two seemingly opposing words are placed together, like ambulatory corpse, and in slightly extended form, a corpse that pockets, creeps, and is incompetentOh and the corpse has a home to go to. Very important.

Humour in life: also very important.

What is Death selling here? Life insurance?

Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

2 thoughts on “Ambulatory Oxymoron”

  1. Thank you for illuminating this quote. I have come to expect you to open my mind to ideas behind the words that I wouldn’t think of on my own, but this time I thought I might be less surprised. Well I wasn’t less surprised. Universities out there should be using you as a teaching resource.

    Liked by 2 people

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