Oxymoron Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

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Just because you hear a word often doesn’t mean you know its definition. If you’ve heard the word oxymoron, chances are you have an idea of its meaning, given the context. However, do you know its history, origin, and how to use it? 

If not, we’ve broken down this figure of speech for you. Keep reading — what you find may surprise you.

What Is the Definition of Oxymoron? 

Oxymoron is considered a figure of speech

This Greek word is commonly used in the English language to explain a self-contradicting sentence or group of words; an example of an oxymoron would be bittersweet. You can expect all oxymorons to sound ridiculous while making perfect sense — there is something beautiful about a perfectly curated oxymoron. An oxymoron can be a useful literary device.

Contradictory words add a dramatic effect to sentences. Famous contradictory terms coined in literature are terms like cruel kindness, deafening silence, and open secret. These terms have opposite meanings; the contradictoriness of the sentence gives a point to the statement or expression.   

While oxymorons are usually used deliberately by the speaker (or writer), that’s not always the case; sometimes, people can accidentally say an oxymoron without realizing their choice of words may not be the best. 

For example, a common oxymoron that English speakers use is definite possibility. Even though it’s an oxymoron, many people use this term in their day-to-day vocabulary. 

Are Oxymorons Grammatically Correct? 

While oxymorons are clearly grammatically objectionable, that is not to say they can’t be useful literary tools. Oxymorons often lead to discovering hybrid concepts; if done correctly, they can elevate your speech and writing. Juxtaposing two contradictory words can lead to confusion (if not done well). 

Luckily, we’ve had many intelligent and creatively gifted writers pave the way for the modern use of oxymorons. Lets take a look at how these figures of speech came to be.

What Is the Origin of Oxymoron? 

The word oxymoron is derived from the Greek words “ὀξύς oksús.” meaning “Sharp, keen, and pointed,” and “μωρός mōros,” meaning “dull, stupid, foolish. 

For example, “sharp-dull” or “keenly stupid.” The word itself is an oxymoron. This word does not appear in any ancient Greek literature until the formation of the Latin term. The word has since taken on the definition “contradiction in terms.”

A common form of oxymoron involves an adjective-noun — a combination of two words. 

When Can You Use an Oxymoron? 

Writers constantly seek new ways to manipulate the English language to produce unique writing styles. Combining words with contradictory meanings that result in new phrases and words is a great way to do this. That’s why everyone (especially writers) should know the ins and outs of oxymorons.

Oxymorons can be tools to elevate your writing. They are used to add a light-hearted or casual tone to writing or as a way to emphasize conflict. The ability to make sense of two contradicting elements is a skill that not many possess; if you can formulate thought-provoking oxymorons that lead your sentences to a more profound meaning, you can expect readers to be impressed. 

Oxymorons are exceptionally versatile as well. Here are some examples of how you can use oxymorons. 

Use Oxymorons for Dramatic Effect

If you want to add a more dramatic tone to your writing, you can use an oxymoron to do so. It may seem like the contradiction of two words would take away from the sentence when it actually adds an entirely new level of seriousness. 

An example of an oxymoron adding drama to a sentence would be “absolutely unsure.” While after closer examination, you see that it’s an oxymoron, at initial glance, it adds a type of directness to the sentence. 

Use Oxymorons To Add a Playful Tone to Your Writing

You don’t always have to use oxymorons to add drama or over-exaggeration; you can be animated with them too. 

If your writing needs a more light-hearted or playful tone, you will use oxymorons like “seriously funny,” “plastic glasses,” or “original copy.”

Use Oxymorons To Add Irony to Your Writing

Most great writing exemplifies humor — you can add irony or sarcasm to your writing with a good oxymoron. 

Ironic oxymorons are different from traditional oxymorons; while the meaning of the words may not be contradictory, the cultural associations are. For example, “business ethics” or “military intelligence.” 

Use Oxymorons To Give Your Writing a Deeper Meaning

Traditional oxymorons were used to reveal a deeper meaning or introduce a complex idea’ William Shakespeare was known for coining many thought-provoking oxymorons. The purpose of oxymorons like this is to force the reader to think about the content differently. 

“Bittersweet” would be the perfect example of an oxymoron that introduces a complex idea or emotion. 

What Are Some Examples of Oxymorons 

Tons of oxymorons are commonly used, and some that aren’t; here are some popular (and not so famous) oxymorons for you to look over! 

  • Jumbo shrimp 
  • Sweet sorrow 
  • Civil war 
  • Melancholy merriment 
  • Old news 
  • Small crowd
  • Accidentally on purpose
  • Accurate estimate
  • Act naturally
  • Advanced beginner
  • Almost exactly
  • Alone together
  • Amazingly awful
  • Approximately equal
  • Bittersweet
  • Calculated risk
  • Climb down
  • Close distance
  • Consistently inconsistent
  • Conspicuous absence
  • Constant variable
  • Controlled chaos
  • Cool passion
  • Crash landing
  • Cruel kindness
  • Openly deceptive
  • Open secret
  • Original copy
  • Overbearingly modest
  • Paper tablecloth
  • Paper towel
  • Peaceful conquest
  • Plastic glasses
  • Plastic silverware
  • Poor health
  • Pretty ugly
  • Properly ridiculous

The Takeaway

Oxymorons are super interesting and can be tons of fun to think up. 

Of course, oxymorons aren’t for everyone; while some people find the manipulation of languages fascinating, others find them “corny.” If you’re someone who finds oxymorons intriguing, then we hope this served you well. 

Of course, if oxymorons still seem pointless to you, we understand that as well — as long as you’re leaving with more knowledge than you started with, you’re in the right spot!


Objectionable definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

OXYMORON | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary

Bittersweet Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com