What is Oxymoron? Meaning, Definition and How to Use Them

What is Oxymoron? Meaning, Definition and How to Use Them

What Is an Oxymoron? Definition and Examples | Important Features and Latest Updates

Oxymoron means a combination or a pair of words or senses that implies opposite meanings or ideas. Such a combination of words may seem impossible, yet figure out the pair of words.

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Definition: Oxymoron can be defined as interweaving or combining two words having opposite meanings. The two words used are contradictory and may seem impossible as their meanings are opposite (to each other). Even the basic ideas of the two oxymoron words used are totally contradictory to each other.

Examples: It is often used in literary pieces, poems, usages, and phrases. This is a unique feature of the English literary language. The five examples of oxymoron are given below:

i. Shyam wrote true fiction (true and fiction as contradictory as it cannot be true if it is fiction).

ii. The school asks for submission of an original copy of the birth certificate (If it is original where does the copy come up? If the certificate is the origin, there is no question that it will be a copy. But this oxymoron word is used in all countries.)

iii. John wants to eat the whole piece of cake (If it is whole, how come the issue of the piece comes in? Whole cake means the total cake. Naturally, the whole piece is totally contradictory).

iv. The crowd was quite small in the shop. Here, we find that meaning wise, crowd means a large gathering. If a crowd means an assemblage of a large number of people, it just cannot be small (like we say, a small crowd).

v. Madhav has sweet bitter memories of London. You know very well that if it is sweet, the question of bitterness or bitterness cannot arise. If something even if it is a memory of a city like London is sweet, it just cannot be bitter at the same time. 

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What is the Purpose of an Oxymoron?

The basic purpose for which oxymoron words have been used for centuries is to give a special effect to a speech, rhetoric, or description.

The word is used for multiple purposes. We are explaining below the five main purposes of oxymoron meaning:

Beautifying the meaning in terms of word usage: Oxymoron is a special characteristic of the English language and it beautifies the language, particularly a speech or a piece of writing.

Making the narrative of experience appear lively: When you are narrating something like your experience with a particular person, a particular dish of edible things, a travel experience or even with your profession, the use of oxymoron words can be very useful. This is due to the reason that everything has pros and cons. Hence, you are expressing it through seemingly contradictory-meaning words to express this feeling.

Making something interesting through fun-effect: Two contradictory meaning words can be something quite interesting with the element of fun embedded in them. Like slow-paced running helped people to catch the thief. If the thief is running, it cannot be at a slow pace. But linking the slow pace with the running of the thief makes it quite funny. But this fun effect is interesting.

Expressing human philosophy: Mankind’s philosophy forms an integral part of the literature. Human beings do not know in which direction the philosophy will move. For example, if you are describing a scene in which a cruel-hearted man kills the father but spares the life of a small child, you can use oxymoron-meaning words to give a good literary or rhetorical expression. To exemplify, the cruel man’s kindness saved the child. Though the cruel man killed the father, he spared the life of the little child. Thus, his cruelness combines with kindness which are contradictory to each other.

Paradoxical expression through oxymoron words: This is another special feature of oxymoron words. You are interestingly creating a literary paradox by adding oxymoron words to the sentence. For example, if you are writing a travel story about a hilly place, you can say the limitless sky came to an end at the summit of the hill. You know if something is limitless, the question of it coming to an end just cannot be there. Limitless means it has no end. But this expression used in a travelogue can make the written piece interesting.   

How Can We Form an Oxymoron?

The formation of an oxymoron depends upon the poetic or literary diction and stylistic approach of the writer. Besides, it also depends on the situation. For example, if we see a man see some glimmer of hope after a series of misfortune or obstacles, we can say on a dark night, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. We all know a tunnel is dark. Naturally, when you reach the end of the tunnel on a moonless dark night, it is going to be dark, in any case. But the author writes he saw light at the end of the tunnel meaning that even after a series of failures, he saw some hope for success.

Here, hope is meant by the light at the end of the tunnel. You can form an oxymoron in the following manner:

i. You must figuratively combine two words of opposite meanings. Hence, you must keep the sense of the sentences while using oxymorons.

ii. In adverbs and usages, you can suitably use oxymoron words.

iii. In showing your determination like ‘good-bad whatever, you must do it’. Good and bad are totally opposed to each other but we are using this oxymoron to show the dogged determination.

iv. In a song or poem, you can use oxymoron words like ‘My love, come with me on my working vacation’ or ‘Sweetheart, I love your true lies’.   

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Oxymoron Examples From the Literature

Oxymoron words have been getting used in English literature for centuries together. We are giving below five such examples:

i. William Shakespeare: Shakespeare used such words quite often. The following Shakespearean examples can be given to substantiate it:

 “Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

 O anything, of nothing first create!

 O heavy lightness, serious vanity,

 Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,

 Feathers of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,

 Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

 This love feels I, that feel no love in this.”

(Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet)

Note: in these lines, you can find contradictory words like brawling love, loving hate, or heavy lightness. We find cold fire, sick health, still waking sleep, and the last line This love feels I, that feel no love in this as perfect examples of an oxymoron.

ii. Lord Byron: In his famous work Don Juan, he used beautiful oxymorons like ‘Melancholy Merriment’.

iii. Jack London: He figuratively described the Aurora Borealis lights in Canada using a very famous oxymoron word “Flaming Coldly” This particular oxymoron used in The Call of the Wild described that the light of the sun is there in the night but it does not have heat. Hence, he wrote “Flaming Coldly’.

iv. Alfred Lord Tennyson: In his famous blank verse Lancelot and Elaine (a part of Idylls of the King), the poet writes:  

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 honor rooted in dishonor stood,

 And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.

Tennyson’s use of Oxymoron words like Honour rooted in dishonor, Faith unfaithful and falsely true added beauty to this poem.  

v. William Butler Yeats: In ‘Easter 1916’, Yeats used a very famous oxymoron which is:

All changed, changed utterly:

 A terrible beauty is born.

In his own poetic diction, Yates repeats Terrible Beauty frequently in the long poem. This is considered one of the best poetic and literary examples of oxymoron.

Some Other Common Examples of Oxymoron for Everyday Use

Here are some oxymorons that are commonly used in the language. The table below provides examples of sentences that use this oxymoron definition for your reference. Take a look at them.

OxymoronSentence Example
Pretty uglyI feel these patterns are pretty ugly and not up to the mark.
True fictionSam likes reading works of true fiction.
Original copyThey asked us to submit the original copy.
Whole pieceChester demanded that he wanted the whole piece of cake.
Virtual realityTechnological advancement in the educational department is completely based on virtual reality.
Cruel kindnessEuthanizing their pet dog was considered as an act of cruel kindness.
Small crowdThere was only a small crowd in front of the grocery store.
Sweet sorrowThere is always such sweet sorrow in witnessing each and every farewell function.
Awfully goodThe movie seemed to be awfully good.
Open secretDharini, moving to France, is an open secret.
Clearly confusedI could see that he was clearly confused because he did not answer my questions satisfactorily.
Organized messMy work desk is an organized mess.
False truthThis is just the false truth.
Friendly fightMy sister and I had a friendly fight.
Completely unfinishedSantana left the painting completely unfinished.
Painfully beautifulThe process of giving birth is painfully beautiful.
Awfully prettyLalu looked awfully pretty at the party today.
Alone togetherThey seemed to be enjoying each other’s company alone together.
Growing smallerMy brother feels that I am growing smaller every time he comes back after a trip.
Only choiceTaking up this job offer was my only choice.
Working holidayTomorrow is a working holiday.
Unbiased opinionThe teacher asked the students for an unbiased opinion.
Walking deadAfter an entire day of continuous practice, the participants looked as if they were walking dead.
Foolish wisdomEveryone was amazed at her foolish wisdom.
Seriously funnyThe final dance was seriously funny.

Check Your Understanding of Oxymoron

Identify the oxymorons in the following oxymoron examples sentences.

1. Our relationship has always been a mix of love and frustration.

2. I can never handle such a silence.

3. The company went through a crisis year, which had a significant impact, on its operations.

4. Their restlessness was evident like a plea for assistance.

5. I have no tolerance for dishonesty whatsoever.

6. My mom told my brother to stop acting like a grown up baby.

7. Trigonometry is the topic in Maths that I like the least.

8. The heavy traffic made it quite likely for us to be late.

9. We opt for glasses so we can simply dispose of them after use.

10. Mazeeka was following a diet in preparation, for her wedding.

Now, find out if you have identified the oxymorons correctly from the answers given below.

1. Our relationship always has its ups and downs.

2. I can never handle such an absence of sound.

3. The company navigated a tumultuous year, which paradoxically strengthened its operations.

4. Their restlessness was evident like a plea for help.

5. I have no tolerance for dishonesty.

6. My mom told my brother to stop acting like such a grown-up baby.

7. Trigonometry is the topic in Maths that I find to be the most painfully enjoyable.

8. We were likely to be late because of the traffic situation.

9. We opt for glasses so that we can easily dispose of them after using them.
10. Mazeeka was on a diet leading up to her wedding day.

What is the Difference Between Oxymoron and Paradox?

In a literary sense, paradox differs from oxymoron. An oxymoron word is a straightforward way of giving contradictory facts but a paradox is used to apparently construe a contradictory thing appearing in the beginning of the sentence but finally turns out to be meaningful upon expostulation and reflection. Thus, the paradox is mostly used in explaining something which justifies its meaning in a tricky way whereas oxymoron is simpler in describing contradictory meaning (mostly used in poems or literary pieces having philosophical connotations).

Trends of Oxymoron

Any language including English evolves. This evolution makes the language rich. During the process of this linguistic evolution, the trends changed. The same is the case with oxymoron in the English language. Oxymoron trends have changed over the decades. This is more so as it is a figure of speech.

One of the trends is that it always evolved to give figurative expression to a meaning often leaving the reader to understand the inner-meaning or underlying meaning of the sentence. Under the modern trend, the use of oxymoron words is usually avoided but it does not mean it is not being used currently. To add a dramatic effect to a written piece, the current trend is to use common words that can be understood by all. This is the reason you can find that the deep philosophical sense used in oxymoron words 200 or 100 years ago is not being used nowadays.

Browse Alphabetically Oxymoron

An alphabetical list of oxymorons is listed below (one each):

·         A: Accidentally on purpose

·         B: Bittersweet

·         C: Climb down

·         D: Deafening silence

·         E: Endless hour

·         F: Found missing

·         G: Genuine imitation or genuine copy

·         H: Highest low

·         I: Imperfect perfection

·         J: Joyous sorrow

·         K: Kind cruelty

·         L: Loud whisper

·         M: Minor miracle

·         N: Natural makeup

·         O: Open secret

·         P: Pretty ugly

·         Q: Quiet roar

·         R: Random order

·         S: Student-teacher

·         T: Tragic Comedy

·         U: Unpopular celebrity

·         V: Violently kind

·         W: Wise fool

·         X: Xanthous reddish

·         Y: Yes but no

·         Z: Zero deficit

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Oxymoron is one of the distinguishing features of special characteristics of the English language. If it is used for centuries in English literature. It is also used in common parlance and discussions. When someone is describing the experiences gained in a town while visiting it, oxymoron words are often used. 

To dramatize a sentence, you can use oxymoron word pairs. In poems, novels, and short stories, oxymoron word pairs are principally used to create a dramatic effect. It also creates curiosity among the readers. The oxymoron dramatic effect is created in the following way: it makes readers pause to understand the innuendoes, it forces readers to understand the meaning in its figurative sense, it makes readers to think and look forward to what’s next. Such words keep readers engaged.

In the English language, there are several ways to present words in new ways. They can be a paradox, innuendo, fallacy, allegory, or sarcasm. These word-presentation techniques including that of Oxymoron express the meaning in a new way. There are several oxymoron entertainment companies and troupes. They tour across the world to stage their programs. Most of the oxymoron entertainment groups are related to the comedy genre. There are some prominent names engaged in comedy genre entertainment like Oxymorons Comedy and Entertainment Troupe, Oxymoron Comedy, and Oxymoron Entertainment. 

Are oxymoron words still used in English literature?

Oxymoron-meaning words are used for centuries together. It is still being used.

Is pairing oxymoron words difficult?


How do oxymoron words beautify a sense in a sentence?

Oxymoron words are used to subtly add a special meaning to a sentence. They beautify the poem or any written piece.

Arjun Kumar

I am a writer specializing in technology content, and I have over 5 years of experience in the content marketing world. Throughout my career, I have worked with a diverse range of companies, crafting articles across various industries, from news articles to technical pieces.With a keen understanding of SEO techniques, I ensure that my content is not only engaging and informative but also optimized for search engines. I am well-versed in utilizing relevant keywords, incorporating meta tags, and structuring content to improve its visibility in search results.