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Jumbo Shrimp
& Other Oxymorons



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Jumbo Shrimp  msg listID: 570

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Jumbo/Shrimp Not Actually Sizes LonesomeFrog - 7/23/2004 15:41
Neither "jumbo" nor "shrimp" historically designate a size as do the adjectives "small, large, tiny, medium, huge". Jumbo was the name of an elephant, perhaps the largest in modern times, who made his way to Britain in captivity to live in a zoo and then went to the USA to join the circus after P.T. Barnum purchased the unfortunate beast. Jumbo died tragically when a passing express train hit the creature as a circus train was unloading. Only after Jumbo became world-famous did marketing folks use that name to designate the largest size of a given product, but that use of the term generally joined it to the word "size" with a hyphen ("jumbo-size hot dog")and it thus remained a a name/noun. (One may say "a large dog" but rarely says a "jumbo" dog. A "jumbo-size" dog would make more sense.) "Jumbo," as term referring to size, is peculiar to English language regardless of the animal's worldwide fame.

The word "shrimp" in modern English is derived from the Old (High) German via 14th Century Middle English. The historic meanings of the root words in those tongues was a crustacean or a creature that contracts. "Shrimp" remains a colloquial, prejorative noun indicating a small person when not used to identify an animal dwelling in salt water.

Unlike "jumbo" the use of "shrimp" as an adjective (or as the initial element in a hyphenated pair of nouns comprising an adjective)is virtully non-existent. To wit: "A shrimp-size drink?" "A shrimp helping of porridge?" Never.

Would using "jumbo" to designate the size of a menu-item result in an oxymoron if one is in Britain, where those crustaceans are generally called "prawns" (as some may argue that this term refers to the larger variety of the crustacean while
"shrimp" refers to the smaller variety since the zoological classifications of the two critters are not identical)?

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