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".
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.
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.
"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.
"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
"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
deeply superficial person
clearly misunderstood (or confused)
"The Sound of Silence"
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.
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
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.