Did you build forts with the pillows from the furniture in your living room as a child? I sure did. (I was lucky to have mother tolerant of easy-to-clean-up messes.) It strikes me as interesting that I’ve never heard anyone call these temporary edifices pillow houses or pillow castles; no, they were forts.
So why would we choose a word that suggests it offers strong protection when describing something made of soft and insubstantial cushions? Is it an oxymoron, a pairing of contradictory words (like Iron Butterfly or sweet sorrow)? Is it just childhood imagination reaching beyond the limits of the material that’s readily available? Or could childhood metaphors hold more truth than is at first apparent?
Thinking of a fort as a means of protection, we might well say blows to our selves are things we try to “deflect”. A stone fort would logically offer an example of a surface that blows could bounce off of. But we also say blows are things we seek to “soften”. What better item to absorb the harsh impact of a blow than something as thick and cushioning as a sofa seat?
I suggest, then, that “pillow fort” isn’t an oxymoron at all; it’s a perfect description of what we all try to construct around us at times to deal with life’s challenges. Who knew back when we were children, we were “enacting a metaphor”?