What Is an Oxymoron? (Definition)


An oxymoron is a term in which two contradictory terms are combined.

The term oxymoron is itself an oxymoron as it derives from the Greek oxus (sharp) and moros (stupid). The plural is oxymorons or oxymora.

Easy Examples of Oxymorons

  • Act naturally
  • (Acting means you're not being natural.)
  • Non-working mother
  • (Being a mother involves a lot of work.)
  • Consensual rape
  • (rape: a sexual assault without consent)

More Examples of Oxymorons

Often, it is debatable whether the contradictory terms in an oxymoron are truly contradictory. Commonly, they are not. Here are some well-known oxymorons that have only partially contradictory terms.
  • dull shine
  • female gunman
  • jumbo shrimp
  • plastic glasses
  • Four-ounce pound cake
Here is an example of something that looks a lot like an oxymoron but isn't.
  • Non-prosaic prose
  • (Prosaic is the adjective of prose, which is normal text as opposed to poetry and verse. Non-prosaic prose looks like an oxymoron, but it isn't because prosaic can also mean ordinary, everyday or boring. So, they're just two interesting words that translate, literally, as interesting words.)

Why Should I Care about Oxymorons?

Encourage your readers to ponder your concept. Oxymorons are not usually mistakes. The contradictory elements are often deliberate to cause the reader to pause and ponder the concept.
  • Deafening silence
  • (This classic oxymoron describes an uncomfortable silence as uncomfortable as someone screaming. It's a thought-provoking phrase.)
While oxymorons are more common in poetry and literary works, they do have some utility in business correspondence as they can be impactful.

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See Also

What are anagrams? Try our anagram builder. What is a palindrome? What is alliteration What is assonance? What is consonance? What is a logosglyph? Glossary of grammatical terms