Used to describe something, eg a situation, having attributes or events which preclude one another.
I can't fault the New York Times too much. After all, they were quoting what others said in yesterday's article Can a Playground Be Too Safe? about the effects of modern safety playground equipment on the emotional growth of children.
«Paradoxically,» the psychologists write, «we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.»
These conclusions should not be at all surprising. This lesson was learnt in the discovery of the causes of the increase in severity and number of polio cases in the Twentieth Century. Improved sanitation conditions in the industrialized world led to children having later exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, as children age, their immune systems become set in their ways and become less adept at handling and fighting the new virus. By protecting children, we robbed them of the ability to protect themselves.
If we look at childhood play as what it is, natural exploration and learning, it should be obvious that it is a way of developing an emotional and behavioral immune system. Children push boundaries, learn to face fear and as importantly learn when not to face fear. They develop techniques necessary for negotiating their path in life. Restrict children's play to only what is safe, and you will restrict their ability to grow emotionally and behaviorally.
Whether this fact is obvious is beside the point. It is, at most, counterintuitive. It is not paradoxical. This is not a matter of degree; there is nothing about the statement which would make any other part of the statement untrue or impossible. Ironically, it is one of the few places they could have used the word ironically instead of what they did use, and it would have been appropriate.
Categorizing this word as a phrase to avoid. However, it needs only be avoided when not used correctly.