Writing

Oxymoron in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Posted: January 3, 2023
Word count: 1,682 (5 min)

Oxymoron is a figure of speech which places two contrasting words beside each other to create a dramatic effect.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

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What is oxymoron definition?

Oxymoron is a figure of speech which places two contrasting words beside each other to create a dramatic effect.

Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines oxymoron as "a phrase that combines two words that seem to be the opposite of each other".

Oxymoron Origin

The word oxymoron comes from old Greek words oxys and moronos, which means sharp and stupid, respectively. Technically, the word oxymoron is formed of two contradictory terms.

Charandas Chor, play written by Habib Tanvir, tells the tale of an honest thief. The play itself is a contradiction, where the thief, even though he steals, is an honest person who sticks to his words and never utters a lie. Charandas Chor, where chor means thief, is probably the only honest thief in Indian folk literature.

Difference Between Oxymoron and Paradox

Both oxymoron and paradox are literary devices that use contradictions.

Oxymoron is a literary device that juxtaposes two oppositite ideas side by side. It is characteristic of an oxymoron to juxtapose, that is, place together two oppositional words in close proximity, so that the effect is heightened and dramatized.

Paradox also does something similar. But instead of immediate juxtaposition, paradox works with two or more contrasting ideas. It works on a higher level than oxymoron.

The effect of oxymoron is immediate while paradox is far-reaching and thought provoking.

We all know of puzzling paradoxes like The Chinese Room, The Grandfather Paradox, and the Twin Paradox.

Why do authors use oxymoron?

Authors use oxymoron in all creative content like poetry, novel, short story and even everyday life. Not all oxymoron come with layers of deeper meaning, but most of them do. We need to read and understand that in context.

Adding Dramatic Effect

Oxymorons add dramatic effect to the creative piece of writing. An oxymoron example is seen mostly in creative content because serious work which are informative in nature rarely use literary devices.

Compare these two sentences:

Shahib likes to read true fiction.
Shahib likes to read stories based on true events.

Both convey the same meaning but only one of them has a sting.

Thoughts in a Different Way

Oxymoron helps add a touch of creativity to the content, without which it would become dull.

For example:

It is the same difference I see here.
There is no change in the difference here.

Sense of Irony and Playfulness

Oxymorons tend to be ironic in nature. They add playfulness and humour in the writing. Read the following examples from great literature to understand the characteristics of oxymoron.

Famous Oxymoron Examples

Romeo and Juliet

"Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say good night till it be morrow."

“Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate! O anything, of nothing first create!”

“A damned saint, an honorable villain!”

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare in the play Romeo and Juliet makes several use of oxymoron to adorn his language.

Animal Farm

"All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others."

Animal Farm, George Orwell

George Orwell craftily makes his ironic and satiric point with the help of oxymoron. The sentence as well as the novella has layers of deeper meaning.

Call of the Wild

“All the pain he had endured was as nothing compared with the exquisite agony of this.”

Call of the Wild, Jack London

In Call of the Wild, Jack London tells the story of a dog who have been taken to work in gold mines.

Idylls of the King

"And peradventure had he seen her first

She might have made this and that other world

Another world for the sick man; but now

The shackles of an old love straitened him,

His honour rooted in dishonour stood,

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true."

Idylls of the King, Lord Tennyson

Tennyson has used phrases like faith unfaithful in his series of narrative poems, which are great examples of oxymorons.

Easter 1916

"I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club,

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born."

'Easter 1916’; William Butler Yeats

All of Me

"'Cause all of me

Loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges

All your perfect imperfections

Give your all to me

I'll give my all to you

You're my end and my beginning

Even when I lose I'm winning"

'All of Me', by John Legend

Don Juan

"It is an awful topic–but ‘t is not

My cue for any time to be terrific:

For checker’d as is seen our human lot

With good, and bad, and worse, alike prolific

Of melancholy merriment, to quote

Too much of one sort would be soporific; –

Without, or with, offence to friends or foes,

I sketch your world exactly as it goes."

Don Juan, by Lord Byron

For Whom the Bell Tolls

"She held herself tight to him and her lips looked for his and then found them and were against them and he felt her, fresh, new and smooth and young and lovely with the warm, scalding coolness and unbelievable to be there in the robe that was as familiar as his clothes, or his shoes, or his duty and then she said, frightenedly, “And now let us do quickly what it is we do so that the other is all gone.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

List of Oxymoron Examples

"sweet sorrow

deafening silence

falsely true

only choice

open secret

genuine imitation

pretty ugly

pointedly foolish

good grief

cold fire

deeply superficial person

small crowd

loyal opposition

living dead

freezer burn

awfully good

absent presence

alone together

awful good

beggarly riches

bittersweet

brisk vacancy

cheerful pessimist

civil war

clearly misunderstood (or confused)

comfortable misery

conspicuous absence

cool passion

crash landing

small crowd

soft rock

"The Sound of Silence"

static flow

steel wool

even odds

exact estimate

extinct life

festive tranquility

found missing

friendly takeover

genuine imitation

darkness visible

deafening silence

deceptively honest

definite maybe

deliberate speed

idiot savant

ill health

impossible solution

intense apathy

good grief

growing smaller

guest host

historical present

humane slaughter

icy hot

living end

living sacrifices

loosely sealed

loud whisper

joyful sadness

jumbo shrimp

larger half

lascivious grace

lead balloon

liquid marble

living dead

openly deceptive

open secret

original copy

overbearingly modest

loyal opposition

magic realism

melancholy merriment

militant pacifist

minor miracle

negative growth

negative income

old news

one-man band

only choice

cruel kindness

devout atheist

dull roar

eloquent silence

paper tablecloth

paper towel

peaceful conquest

plastic glasses

plastic silverware

poor health

pretty ugly

properly ridiculous

random order

recorded live

resident alien

sad smile

same difference

scalding coolness

seriously funny

shrewd dumbness

silent scream

student teacher

"sweet sorrow"

terribly good

theoretical experience

transparent night

true fiction

unbiased opinion

unconscious awareness

upward fall

virtual reality

whole piece

wise fool

working vacation"

How to Use Oxymoron in Your Story

Using oxymorons are very simple and are as follows:

Juxtapose Two Opposing Words

Place two contradictory words next to each other. The words should be contrasting in nature so as to give a dramatic effect.

There was an air of threatening safety.

Create an Ironical Situation

Create situations in your story that requires use to literary device like oxymoron. Create plots which demands phrases like clever fool.

For example, imagine a sitcom introducing a comic character as,

Everybody? Meet Derek. He sells plastic ceramics.

Be Creative

Using oxymorons and other literary devices will ornamentalize your content, and also save the reader from reading heavy topics. Oxymoron engages the reader in the humour and the fun of the text.

How to Identidy Oxymoron in a Sentence

Look for words that are have opposite meanings and are placed beside each other.

Is it a good trouble I am in?

In this sentence good trouble is an oxymoron because good and trouble are two contradictory words.

Identify oxymoron in the following sentences and think why the phrase qualifies as so.

  • What beautiful sadness lies around.
  • He is an important fool.
  • Pop culture us the new classic.
  • She knows how to act naturally.
  • It is simply puzzling.
  • He is a selfish monk.
  • Stop acting like a giant baby.
  • World politics is her least favourite area of choice.
  • The law has a zero tolerance policy.
  • I screamed silently while doing triginometry.
  • It is a definite possibility that she will arrive on time.
  • By the end I was completely unfinished.

Oxymoron Examples as Adjective and Nouns

  • loud whisper
  • controlled chaos
  • love hate
  • random order
  • work vacation (workcation)
  • true theory
  • proven paradox
  • organized mess
  • friend enemy (frenemy)
  • original copy

Oxymoron examples as Adverb and Adjectives

  • alone together
  • strangely familiar
  • awfully good
  • seriously funny

Summary

Oxymoron can be found in everyday conversation. They have an immediate effect of drama and sarcasm, but also has an underlying meaning. Let us recap for a while.

Oxymoron is one of many rhetorical devices used to express irony by placing two contradictory words or ideas beside each other. Juxtaposition helps make the effect very intense.

O good grief! At this point term like this have become wuell known phrases, which is actually a common oxymoron. Phrases like living corpse, walking dead, are common oxymorons and a part of everyday speech of the tired and frustrated, or horror movie makers.

Oxymoron adds humour, irony, playfulness and sarcasm to the text. Oxymoron like any other literary device brings layer and dimension into the writing. Use oxymoron by juxtaposing two contrasting words or phrases.

To spot an oxymoron, look for opposing words in the writing.

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