Oxymoron: Definition and Examples!

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Oxymoron Definition and Examples

Oxymoron: Have you heard about the word oxymoron? Constantly used around, especially as a slang word like saying it as – “Is Monday an oxymoron?” or you surely have heard someone say “It was a pretty bad movie” using the word pretty and bad at the same time. An oxymoron is a figure of speech– a creative approach to language that plays with meaning and the use of words in a non-literal sense.

This literary device combines words with contradictory definitions to coin a new word or phrase. The incongruity of the resulting statement allows writers to play with language and meaning. Let’s unciver more about the word “oxymoron” in the article below.

Also Read: Personification: Definition, Meaning and Examples

What is an Oxymoron?

Oxymorons are oppositional words joined to create a unique word or phrases. An oxymoron can seem absurd yet make perfect sense at the same time. For example, the phrase “virtual reality” is formed from contrasting words. The word “oxymoron” is an oxymoron itself, derived from the Greek words “Oxys” (meaning “sharp”) and “Moros” (meaning “dull”). Oxymorons can support a lighthearted mood or tone, as well as emphasize conflict. The juxtaposition of two opposing words can also:

  1. Add dramatic effect: Oxymorons are unique. At first glance, they seem to be self-defeating, with words that negate one another. As a complete thought, an oxymoron amplifies the meaning of the second word. For example, the phrase “absolutely unsure” is an oxymoron. Instead of pulling away from one another, the contrasting definitions support the greater concept of being completely unsure. This emphasis adds a dramatic effect to a sentence or passage.
  2. Create a playful tone: The use of oxymorons adds playfulness to writing. Oxymorons like “seriously funny,” “original copy,” “plastic glasses,” and “clearly confused” juxtapose opposing words next to one another, but their ability to make sense despite their opposing forces adds wit to writing.
  3. Reveal a deeper meaning: The dichotomy of an oxymoron often expresses a complex idea. It gives a reader pause and makes them think about the context in a different light. The word “bittersweet,” for example, is an oxymoron that reveals a double-sided existence of an object or idea.
  4. Add irony: There are examples of oxymorons whose meanings might not seem in contrast to one another, but their cultural associations are. Ironic oxymorons include: “airline schedule,” “business ethics,” and “military intelligence.”

How to Use an Oxymoron in a Sentence?

Oxymorons are figures of speech that combine contradictory or opposite terms to create a unique effect or to highlight a paradox. They are used in sentences to convey complex ideas, create humor, or emphasize a particular point. Here are some examples of how oxymorons can be used in sentences:

Jumbo shrimp is on the menu tonight.
In this sentence, the oxymoron “jumbo shrimp” is used to describe shrimp that are both large (jumbo) and small (shrimp) at the same time, creating a sense of irony.

She had a bittersweet feeling as she left her childhood home.
The oxymoron “bittersweet” combines “bitter” and “sweet” to convey mixed emotions, indicating that her departure was both sad and happy in different ways.

The comedian’s humor was so seriously funny that the audience couldn’t stop laughing.
Here, “seriously funny” combines “serious” and “funny” to emphasize the extent of the humor, suggesting that it was not just funny but exceptionally so.

The project’s success was a controlled chaos of creativity and innovation.
“Controlled chaos” blends “chaos” and “control” to convey the idea that, while there was disorder and unpredictability, it was managed and purposeful.

The young musician’s work displayed a deafening silence in the world of classical music.
This oxymoron, “deafening silence,” suggests that the musician’s work was so powerful in its subtlety that it had a profound impact on the classical music scene.

Why is Oxymoron Used?

Why is oxymoron used?

Overall, as a literary device, the oxymoron functions as a means of getting the reader’s attention through the pairing of opposing or contradictory words. Reading these words together will often cause a reader to pause and think about what the writer is trying to convey. These figures of speech can enhance a reader’s understanding of a concept, interpretation of a phrase, or enjoyment of language. Here are instances in which it’s effective to use oxymorons in writing:

Demonstrate Linguistic Skill

Since most people don’t use oxymorons very often when speaking, it does take linguistic skill to create one that is successful. For example, just pairing any two words that are contradictory won’t make for an effective oxymoron. The phrase daily night certainly features contrary wording. However, if there is no figurative or underlying meaning to the phrase, it shouldn’t be used as a proper oxymoron. Instead, it takes linguistic skill in knowing which words, though opposing, will work together to have an effect on the reader.

Enhance Drama

Oxymoron can enhance the drama in writing. This is especially achieved if the word pairing reveals intensity or a great difference in quality. For example, if a character receives a painful smile, this creates a significant dramatic effect. Smiles are rarely associated with pain. Therefore, the reader is left in some suspense to wonder what events or feelings would result in such a response received by the character.

Create Humor

Oxymoron can be an excellent tool in creating humor for a reader. For example, if a character is described as a man child, this oxymoron calls up a humorous image of a child that looks like a man or vice-versa. It is also comedic in terms of behavior, both in terms of a man acting like a child or a child behaving like a man.

Indicate Irony

Oxymoron can also serve as a means of elevated language when used to express a sense of irony. For example, oxymoron phrases such as marital bliss, military intelligence, and business ethics, depending on how they are used as figures of speech, can be effective literary devices to indicate irony. These word pairings are not inherently opposite, but their individual concepts can seem contradictory when combined.

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Examples of Some Common Oxymoron

Oxymorons have made it into the mainstream language of everyday conversation as well as literature. Here are some examples of popular oxymorons commonly used:

Only choiceVirtual realitySame differenceFriendly fire
Controlled chaosFreezer burnSilent screamTerribly good
Wise foolClose distanceStiff drinkLoyal opponent
Random OrderJumbo shrimpSmall crowdOld news
Living deadDeafening silenceOnly choiceAwfully good

Difference Between Oxymoron and Paradox

While close in appearance, there are motivational differences between an oxymoron and a paradox.

  • An oxymoron is a descriptive device that places two opposing words next to or near to one another.
  • A paradox, while also using contradictory terms or thoughts, is generally a longer statement, and a twist of words as well as logic.

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Usage of Oxymoron in Speech or Writing

Here are some examples of oxymorons that may be found in everyday writing or conversation:

  • My sister and I had a friendly fight over the lipstick.
  • I think the professor stated his unbiased opinion regarding the student response.
  • You look awfully pretty in that coat.
  • Sarah ate the whole piece of the pie.
  • The carpenters left the bench completely unfinished.
  • The new kittens enjoyed being Alone together.
  • True fiction is my favorite genre to read.
  • It is considered a false truth that a broken mirror means bad luck.
  • Joe considers himself to be a ladies’ man when he’s at a club.
  • Jenny thinks of her garage as an organized mess.

Examples of Oxymoron in Literature

Source: ProProfs

Oxymorons have been used in literature for centuries. From poetry to prose, writers have used oxymorons to add color and wit.

  • William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet : Shakespeare used an oxymoron in one of the most famous lines he ever wrote, which comes from Romeo and Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” He also used oxymorons in other parts of the play, like in the scene when Romeo is trying to processes the pain of unrequited love through a series of oxymorons. His inner conflict is shown through the contradictions of his words: “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate! O anything, of nothing first create!”
  • Jack London, Call of the Wild : London uses figurative language to describe the harsh beauty of the Canadian Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. When the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky, London describes it “flaming coldly.” When Buck, the main dog in this story, is beaten into submission, London describes his pain as “exquisite agony.” The oxymorons mirror the contrast between the serene yet brutal landscape of the Yukon and Buck’s resistance to his new environment and his primal desire to embrace it.
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre : This classic story from 1847 revolves around themes of love, independence, family, and obligation. Torn between love and duty, St. John, cousin of Jane, describes his deep feelings for Rosamond Oliver as “delicious poison.” He feels an overwhelming temptation to be with the woman he loves, even knowing it will ultimately steer him off course.

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What is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory or opposite terms to create a unique or paradoxical effect. It often highlights contrasts or tensions in language and can be used for various rhetorical purposes.

What is the purpose of using oxymorons in language?

Oxymorons can serve several purposes, including adding depth and complexity to language, creating memorable or thought-provoking phrases, emphasizing paradoxes, or using humor to convey a point.

Are there different types of oxymorons?

Yes, there are various types of oxymorons, including adjective-noun oxymorons (e.g., “bittersweet”), adverb-adjective oxymorons (e.g., “open secret”), and others that combine different parts of speech to create contrasts.

Hopefully, after reading this blog you are clear as to what an oxymoron is. If you are someone who is learning new words in English, let me tell you appearing for an English Proficiency Test is an elementary yet painstaking effort. Want a sure shot at scoring 7+ IELTS band then join a FREE demo IELTS class at Leverage Live and take a glimpse at success!

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