Have you heard about the word oxymoron? Constantly used around, especially as a slang word like saying it as – “Is Monday an oxymoron?” or you surely have heard someone say “It was a pretty bad movie” using the word pretty and bad at the same time. An oxymoron is a figure of speech- a creative approach to language that plays with meaning and the use of words in a non-literal sense. This literary device combines words with contradictory definitions to coin a new word or phrase. The incongruity of the resulting statement allows writers to play with language and meaning.
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What is an Oxymoron?
Oxymorons are oppositional words joined to create a unique word or phrase. An oxymoron can seem absurd yet make perfect sense at the same time. For example, the phrase “virtual reality” is formed from contrasting words. The word “oxymoron” is an oxymoron itself, derived from the Greek words “Oxys” (meaning “sharp”) and “Moros” (meaning “dull”). Oxymorons can support a lighthearted mood or tone, as well as emphasize conflict. The juxtaposition of two opposing words can also:
- Add dramatic effect: Oxymorons are unique. At first glance, they seem to be self-defeating, with words that negate one another. As a complete thought, an oxymoron amplifies the meaning of the second word. For example, the phrase “absolutely unsure” is an oxymoron. Instead of pulling away from one another, the contrasting definitions support the greater concept of being completely unsure. This emphasis adds a dramatic effect to a sentence or passage.
- Create a playful tone: The use of oxymorons adds playfulness to writing. Oxymorons like “seriously funny,” “original copy,” “plastic glasses,” and “clearly confused” juxtapose opposing words next to one another, but their ability to make sense despite their opposing forces adds wit to writing.
- Reveal a deeper meaning: The dichotomy of an oxymoron often expresses a complex idea. It gives a reader pause and makes them think about the context in a different light. The word “bittersweet,” for example, is an oxymoron that reveals a double-sided existence of an object or idea.
- Add irony: There are examples of oxymorons whose meanings might not seem in contrast to one another, but their cultural associations are. Ironic oxymorons include: “airline schedule,” “business ethics,” and “military intelligence.”
Difference Between Oxymoron and Paradox
While close in appearance, there are motivational differences between an oxymoron and a paradox.
- An oxymoron is a descriptive device that places two opposing words next to or near to one another.
- A paradox, while also using contradictory terms or thoughts, is generally a longer statement, and a twist of words as well as logic.
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Examples of Common Oxymoron
Oxymorons have made it into the mainstream language of everyday conversation as well as literature. Here are some examples of popular oxymorons commonly used:
- Only choice
- Same difference
- Friendly fire
- Virtual reality
- Controlled chaos
- Freezer burn
- Silent scream
- Terribly good
- Wise fool
- Close distance
- Stiff drink
- Black light
- Clearly confused
- Genuine fake
- Living history
- Exact estimate
- Quiet roar
- Student teacher
- Passive aggressive
- Smaller half
- Magical realism
- Loyal opponent
- Random Order
- Live recording
- Jumbo shrimp
- Small crowd
- Old news
- Open secret
- Living dead
- Deafening silence
- Only choice
- Pretty ugly
- Awfully good
- Almost exactly
- Same difference
Usage of Oxymoron in Speech or Writing
Here are some examples of oxymorons that may be found in everyday writing or conversation:
- My sister and I had a friendly fight over the lipstick.
- I think the professor stated his unbiased opinion regarding the student response.
- You look awfully pretty in that coat.
- Sarah ate the whole piece of the pie.
- The carpenters left the bench completely unfinished.
- The new kittens enjoyed being Alone together.
- True fiction is my favorite genre to read.
- It is considered a false truth that a broken mirror means bad luck.
- Joe considers himself to be a ladies’ man when he’s at a club.
- Jenny thinks of her garage as an organized mess.
Examples of Oxymoron in Literature
Oxymorons have been used in literature for centuries. From poetry to prose, writers have used oxymorons to add color and wit.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet : Shakespeare used an oxymoron in one of the most famous lines he ever wrote, which comes from Romeo and Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” He also used oxymorons in other parts of the play, like in the scene when Romeo is trying to processes the pain of unrequited love through a series of oxymorons. His inner conflict is shown through the contradictions of his words: “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate! O anything, of nothing first create!”
- Jack London, Call of the Wild : London uses figurative language to describe the harsh beauty of the Canadian Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. When the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky, London describes it “flaming coldly.” When Buck, the main dog in this story, is beaten into submission, London describes his pain as “exquisite agony.” The oxymorons mirror the contrast between the serene yet brutal landscape of the Yukon and Buck’s resistance to his new environment and his primal desire to embrace it.
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre : This classic story from 1847 revolves around themes of love, independence, family, and obligation. Torn between love and duty, St. John, cousin of Jane, describes his deep feelings for Rosamond Oliver as “delicious poison.” He feels an overwhelming temptation to be with the woman he loves, even knowing it will ultimately steer him off course.
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Why is Oxymoron Used?
Overall, as a literary device, the oxymoron functions as a means of getting the reader’s attention through the pairing of opposing or contradictory words. Reading these words together will often cause a reader to pause and think about what the writer is trying to convey. These figures of speech can enhance a reader’s understanding of a concept, interpretation of a phrase, or enjoyment of language. Here are instances in which it’s effective to use oxymorons in writing:
Demonstrate Linguistic Skill
Since most people don’t use oxymorons very often when speaking, it does take linguistic skill to create one that is successful. For example, just pairing any two words that are contradictory won’t make for an effective oxymoron. The phrase daily night certainly features contrary wording. However, if there is no figurative or underlying meaning to the phrase, it shouldn’t be used as a proper oxymoron. Instead, it takes linguistic skill in knowing which words, though opposing, will work together to have an effect on the reader.
Oxymoron can enhance the drama in writing. This is especially achieved if the word pairing reveals intensity or a great difference in quality. For example, if a character receives a painful smile, this creates a significant dramatic effect. Smiles are rarely associated with pain. Therefore, the reader is left in some suspense to wonder what events or feelings would result in such a response received by the character.
Oxymoron can be an excellent tool in creating humor for a reader. For example, if a character is described as a man child, this oxymoron calls up a humorous image of a child that looks like a man or vice-versa. It is also comedic in terms of behavior, both in terms of a man acting like a child or a child behaving like a man.
Oxymoron can also serve as a means of elevated language when used to express a sense of irony. For example, oxymoron phrases such as marital bliss, military intelligence, and business ethics, depending on how they are used as figures of speech, can be effective literary devices to indicate irony. These word pairings are not inherently opposite, but their individual concepts can seem contradictory when combined.
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Hopefully, after reading this blog you are clear as to what an oxymoron is. If you are someone who is learning new words in English, let me tell you appearing for an English Proficiency Test is an elementary yet painstaking effort. Want a sure shot at scoring 7+ IELTS band then join a FREE demo IELTS class at Leverage Live and take a glimpse at success!