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An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that uses terms to contradict itself. Many different phrases could potentially qualify as an oxymoron, depending on the context of use and the standards of any given language user. For example, the phrase "crazy wisdom" would strike some people as an oxymoron, due to the fact that wisdom would seem to be such that it cannot be crazy. On the other hand, though, it may not be an oxymoron within the context of certain philosophical or spiritual traditions that have room for such a concept. 

Oxymoron explained

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which a combination of apparently contradictory or incongruous words is used to make a statement. Plural oxymora is another phrase meaning oxymoron. In speech and literature, an oxymoronic phrase is generally a combination of two opposite ideas joined together to create a unique and original effect; as such the literary device is used often in fiction and creative writing. Some oxymorons are only made up of two words; others link two unlike phrases together for effect. It is important to note that oxymoron is not the same as paradox. A paradox is generally longer than an oxymoron, and more detailed. 

Examples of oxymoron

Literature is rife with examples of oxymorons, and as a literary device, oxymorons are very common in modern day literature. Oxymoron can often produce a comical or amusing effect in writing or speech; it is used regularly in daily conversation and witticisms. Here are some examples of oxymoron:

“The play was seriously funny.”

“Can you please make sure these original copies are stored in the safe?”

Shakespeare was a great fan of oxymoron, as this excerpt from Romeo and Juliet demonstrates:

“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!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

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

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

Dos thou not laugh?”

Romeo’s speech indicates his belief that Juliet is inaccessible as a wife due to her higher social standing.


An oxymoron is also different from rhetorical oxymora, such as “business ethics” and “Bipartisan cooperation.” These expressions are built with words that express an opinion that the two should not occur together, usually for satirical effect. In rhetorical oxymora, the words used are not inherently mutually exclusive. The following examples demonstrate the humorous effect that oxymoron can be used to express:

“My mother is absolutely unsure of my whereabouts right now.”

“She is acting naturally.”

“He is an advanced beginner in the art of relationships.”

“The dog was alone in a crowd.”

“The Tiffany lamp was a genuine imitation.”

Oxymoron is derived from the Greek oxymoron meaning “pointedly foolish.” Oxys means “sharp” and moros means “stupid.” An oxymoron or oxymoronic phrase, therefore, is often an illustration of a new thing or concept, and can be used to mean “a contradiction in terms.” Its first known use was in 1657. In Ancient Greece, an oxymoron was a pointed paradox, whose use was deliberate in order to draw attention to a concealed point. Here are some common conversation oxymorons that may be overheard frequently:

“The girl was found missing from her apartment yesterday.”

“That is almost exactly the shade of blue I’m looking for.”

“He had a minor crisis of conscience before we went out last night.”

“His silent scream at the thought of chicken for dinner went unheard by his companion.”

“I’m taking a working holiday so I can at least get out of the office.”

“I got a ticket after a rolling stop today.”

“Why does it matter which you choose? It’s the same difference.”

“The rat was clearly confused by its maze options.”

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