What Is an Oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory or opposite terms in a single phrase or expression. It creates a unique effect by pairing words that seem to contradict each other, such as "jumbo shrimp," "bittersweet," or "living dead." Oxymorons can be used for a variety of purposes, such as humor, irony, or emphasis. They can be found in literature, poetry, advertising, and everyday language.

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

Despite the contradiction in its name, oxymorons are often used to convey complex or nuanced meanings in a concise and memorable way.

Table of Contents

  • Easy Examples of Oxymorons
  • Examples of "Partial" Oxymorons
  • Why Oxymorons Are Important
  • Test Time!
oxymoron examples
The plural of "oxymoron" is "oxymorons" or "oxymora," but "oxymorons" is far more popular [evidence].

Easy Examples of Oxymorons

  • Act naturally
  • (Acting means you're not being natural.)
  • Non-working mother
  • (Being a mother involves a lot of work.)
  • Fresh raisins
  • (Raisins are dried-out grapes.)

Examples of "Partial" Oxymorons

Often, it is debatable whether the contradictory terms in an oxymoron are truly contradictory. Often, 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. The term "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.)
Read more about prose.

Why Oxymorons Are Important

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.

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.