The Grammarphobia Blog

Quality control

Q: Google helps me with almost all my language questions, but I couldn’t find a satisfying answer to this one: Is “bad quality” an oxymoron and “good quality” redundant?

A: No, “bad quality” is not an oxymoron (a combination of contradictory or incongruous words). And “good quality” is not redundant.

The noun “quality” has a lot of meanings, including many that could be described as good or bad: a character trait, an inherent feature, a characteristic, and so on.

Merriam-Webster Online lists quite a few examples of such senses, including these: “Honesty is a desirable quality” … “Stubbornness is one of his bad qualities” … “The house has many fine qualities.”

Of course some uses of the noun do indeed suggest excellence, and “good” or “bad” would be unnecessary or out of place with them.

We’ll make up a few examples: “The shop sells only merchandise of quality” … “He’s a member of the quality” … “Where can I find quality at a reasonable price?” … “I was blown away by the quality of the writing.”

When the noun “quality” first showed up in English around 1300, it referred to someone’s character or nature, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. A century later, it came to mean a personal attribute.

Although English adopted the word from the Anglo-Norman or Old French qualité, the ultimate source is the Latin qualitas, which was Cicero’s translation of the Greek word for quality, poiotes, coined by Plato. 

If you’d like to read more, we had a posting a few years ago on the use of “quality” as an adjective meaning excellent or of high quality (as in “quality time”).

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