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Oxymoron definition

An oxymoron is term used in literature and grammar to denote an instance where contradictory terms are combined to form phrases. An oxymoron combines an adjective with a noun and is often confused with pleonasm. Pleonasms are the opposite, or antonyms, of oxymora and are redundant terms placed together.

The word oxymoron is derived from the Greek language. The original Greek translation is “oxymoros.” “Oxy” meaning sharp or pointed and “moros” meaning dull or foolish. Combined, the roots form the word oxymoron meaning “pointedly dull” or “sharply foolish.”

The basic definition of an oxymoron is two words put together to form a phrase which contradicts itself.

Examples of a oxymoron:

  • living dead
  • big sip
  • original copy

If something is living it can’t be dead. A sip is a small swallow and a copy is not an original. Oxymora may be formed inadvertently or they may be used in stylistic pieces to make a point. The classic song “The Sound of Silence” uses an oxymoron to relate a specific image to the listener.

Although the term “oxymorons” can be found, it is the incorrect plural of “oxymoron.” The correct plural of the word is “oxymora.”

An oxymoron is a paradox or a statement containing conflicting ideas. Paradoxical oxymora often become overused clichés. These include:

  • deafening silence
  • sweet sorrow
  • grim smile

Oxymora have also been created through certain compound words. These words have been put together to form one word that contradicts itself. These words include:

  • spendthrift
  • bittersweet

Oxymora is popular in advertising and is often heard in infomercials, such as the popular “virtually spotless.”

Author William Lutz defines oxymora as

language that only pretends to communicate.

The use of oxymora in writings can provide humor and interest in a story and often make good book or movie titles when used judiciously.

What is the meaning of oxymoron?
An oxymoron combines two words with opposite meanings to coin a term that contradicts itself. Typically, the oxymoron is formed using an adjective and a noun. The word “oxymoron” is derived from the Greek language, and joins root words “oxy,” meaning sharp or pointed, and “moros,” meaning dull or foolish.

Examples of an oxymoron include “deafening silence” and “jumbo shrimp.”



What is the difference between an oxymoron and a paradox?

An oxymoron combines two words with opposite meanings to form a term that contradicts itself to add colorful meaning to a statement.

A paradox is a sentence or a group of sentences that incorporate two opposite components for a seemingly impossible situation that leads to a general truth, if not a reality. A paradox may refer to a situation or a person who does two seemingly opposite things with equal gusto.

To easily distinguish between an oxymoron and a paradox, remember that a paradox involves an action requiring at least one sentence while an oxymoron is simply a descriptive combination of two contradictory words.


What is an oxymoron in poetry?
Oxymorons in poetry can be thought provoking, and are often used to elicit vivid mental images. These combinations of two opposite words are used by the poet to add dimension to the mental picture he must paint with a minimum of words.

While oxymorons are used to add flavor and wit to everyday conversation, poets frequently use an oxymoron to make a deep statement, often while conforming to a rhyming convention and meter.


Check out this list with examples of oxymoron or a list of oxymoron quotes.