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Oxymoron: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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As a writer or a reader, you’ve come into contact with several literary devices.

These devices enhance the stories, essays, and plays we read and write, introducing new meanings.

One beneficial literary device is the oxymoron!

The oxymoron can help add some extra pizzazz to a written work, especially in works of fiction.

While it might not be at the forefront when learning how to write a blog post, it’s still a thing all writers should know!

Read on to learn everything you need to know about oxymorons.

What Is an Oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

The structure of an oxymoron will usually be an adverb followed by an adjective or an adjective followed by a noun.  

The word oxymoron itself is an oxymoron!

Oxus, which is the first instance of oxy, is of Greek origin and means sharp, while moros, standing for a moron, means dull or dumb.

So the word oxymoron simultaneously means sharp, and dumb; a wise fool, one might say.

Readers can also think of oxymorons as short phrases that make no sense the longer they think about them.

Also Known As:

  • Contradiction
  • Conundrum
  • Conflict

Simple Definition: How To Explain a Paradox to a Child

An oxymoron, in simpler terms, is a pair of words that are opposites of each other put together in a phrase.

“Big baby” is an oxymoron because babies are not big; babies are small.

Or the phrase “alone together.” How can we possibly be alone when we’re still together?

Why Is an Oxymoron Used?

Oxymorons are used in writing for a few different reasons.

Oxymorons can be entertaining and humorous and can create new meaning in a piece of writing.

Oxymorons stand out, which makes them ideal.

Oxymorons are also used to make statements about certain things; Frank Orwell, who we’ll discuss later, used oxymorons quite frequently in his satirical writings “Animal Farm” and “1984”.  

All types of writers will find it necessary to know what oxymorons are and to try their hand at adding them into their writing.

Types of Oxymorons

There are a few different types of oxymorons out there that writers use, including accidental, deliberate, and humorous oxymorons.

These oxymorons are used purposefully to enhance meaning for all types of content. 

1. Accidental Oxymorons

Accidental oxymorons are phrases we say so much that we don’t even realize that they are oxymorons.

“Awfully good” “grow smaller” and “exact estimate” are some phrases we might use in day-to-day life that are oxymorons without us even realizing it.

The phrases make sense to us, but when we think about them a little deeper, we come to realize that the use of the two words together makes very little sense.

2. Deliberate Oxymorons

Deliberate oxymorons purposefully call attention to the juxtaposing ideas.

It’s usually done to make a statement or to perhaps cause slight humor.

Either way, they serve to spice up writing.

3. Humorous Oxymorons

Humorous oxymorons are oxymorons used intended to spur or inspire laughter from a reader; often, deliberate and humorous oxymorons happen to be the same thing because the author is purposefully trying to get a laugh or chuckle out of their readers.

One such humorous example comes from Clara Barton, a nurse during the civil war.

“I distinctly remember forgetting that” gives people a laugh because they wonder what on earth Barton was trying to forget or ignore.

How Do You Identify an Oxymoron?

An oxymoron can be identified if the definition of words contradicts each other.

Since an oxymoron is limited to a single sentence, it is sometimes easier to find than other literary devices that may span the whole text.

Oxymorons may be hard to spot though, especially when we consider the ones we use in speaking without realizing that they are oxymorons.

With more practice spotting them in reading and writing, the easier it’ll be to find them all around!

How Do You Use an Oxymoron in a Sentence?

A writer can write an oxymoron in a sentence by taking any two words with opposite meanings and compiling them together.

Take this following oxymoron: living dead.

Here, we take the adjective ‘living’ and the noun ‘dead’ to talk about what we would call zombies, reanimated bodies.  

So while other literary devices might span a larger portion of the piece of writing, oxymorons are usually confined to a single sentence.

What Is the Most Popular Example of Any Oxymoron?

The most popular example of an oxymoron, which people might not realize is an oxymoron, is the phrase “kill with kindness.”

This phrase is used for someone who has been bullied by another person and encourages them to brush it off and to be the bigger person.

Anyone who has ever been bullied or had something hurtful said to them or about them has heard the phrase “kill them with kindness” in response.

Instead of suggesting that the victim reciprocate cruelty to the person who wronged them, they are encouraged to step above it and be a better person.

How do you kill someone with kindness, someone might wonder.

Kindness isn’t even a weapon, and killing someone requires inflicting pain; how do you do that with kindness?

Killing is used symbolically, to ‘kill’ a bully’s desire to be mean or a bully’s interest by being kind shows that the bullied person is not affected and refuses to be brought to the bully’s level.

“Kill them with kindness” is a common oxymoron that encourages listeners to be mature and to be the bigger person.

Other Modern Examples of Oxymorons

While writers like Shakespeare and Orwell often used oxymorons, here are some common modern oxymorons that everyone can identify.

Examples of Oxymorons for Kids

  • Pretty ugly
  • Fine mess
  • Close distance

Examples of Funny Oxymorons

  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Old news
  • Slumber party
  • Act natural

Examples of Accidental Oxymorons

  • Grow smaller
  • Exact estimate
  • Terribly good

Notable Writers who Used Oxymorons

These are writers who effectively used oxymorons to enhance the stories they were telling.  

1. Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde enjoyed using oxymorons in his writing.

The most famous oxymoron used by him was said, however, not in any of his works.

“I can resist everything, except temptation,” he said on his liberal resistance threshold and the fuel running worldwide temptation.

Wilde loved using oxymorons purely for the comedic effect promised by them, usually to make a statement about the character who said it.

2. William Shakespeare

Shakespeare employed oxymorons in many of his plays and his sonnets.

“Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” and “The Tempest” are just a few of his plays that relied on oxymorons to deliver an extra punch in the drama of the scenes.

“Damned saint, honourable villain” and “loving hate” are both oxymorons found in “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet utters them after hearing that her love Romeo has been banished from the land after slaughtering her cousin Tybalt.

She remarks on the difficulty of the situation, as she doesn’t know how to handle sadness, sadness that her favorite cousin is gone, and sadness that her husband was the reason for his death.

3. George Orwell

Known well for his satire and allegories, George Orwell crafted a few oxymorons throughout his novels.

“Animal Farm” and “1984” are some of his more famous novels that use oxymorons to call to light the absurdity of the real-life events they covered.

“Animal Farm” is an allegory discussing Russia and the Soviet Union under communism.

In the novel, farm animals rebel against their farmer to be free.

However, by the end, there is a new tyrant, the pig Napoleon, and things are much worse than before.

Near the end, a quote says, “Everyone is equal. It’s just that some are more equal than others,” which was an oxymoron to call out the problematic construction of communism as a whole.

How can we be equal if some are more equal than others?

What does that even mean?

What Is the Opposite of an Oxymoron?

The opposite of an oxymoron is a paradox, another literary device.

Oxymoron vs. Paradox

Oxymorons and paradoxes both compare two things that are different, but the things each device contradicts are what make them different from each other.

Oxymorons contradict the meaning of two different words against each other, making it a relatively short phrase.

In comparison, a paradox usually takes up a whole sentence in which there is a situation that denies intuition.

Here’s a paradox: “If I know one thing, it’s that I know nothing.”

Here, the author says that they do know something and then goes on to say that they know nothing.

How do you know nothing?

Other Related Literary Devices to Know

  • Analogy: An analogy is a comparison in literature used to help explain something, usually by showcasing similar traits.
  • Euphemism: a euphemism is a literary device that allows writers to be polite and refer to inappropriate topics or words without using the exact phrase. Euphemisms are substitutes in place of words that are considered offensive or unpleasant.
  • Humor: Humor is a great way to further engage readers in an essay or story.
    Getting your readers to laugh and amusing them will help them bond closer to your characters and care more about the story you’re writing.
  • Irony: Another classic literary device, the use of irony is a great way to spice up writing.
    Irony is used for humor or emphatic effect and is where a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader but unknown to them. Irony is also an event where the opposite of what is intended to happen happens, or what the character feared would happen does end up happening.
  • Satire: Satire is a combination of humor, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule that is employed to call out and condemn the stupidity of other people and vices, usually in politics and other contemporary conversations.

Writing Tools to Help You Out

These following writing tools will help make writing your blog posts, and writing any content for that matter, a little easier while helping you improve along the way.

1. Writing Helpers

There are many writing helpers available online to account for any mistakes a writer may make, all specific for whatever a writer needs help with.

If a writer goes overboard and has trouble writing small, direct pieces, there’s a writing helper out there. Other common writing issues can be resolved with a writing helper.

2. AI Writing Software

AI Writing software is a versatile writing tool with helpful tips for writing that is applicable everywhere.

If writing a blog post, copy, or trying to make the best of SEO, AI Writing software will come to the rescue.

3. Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers are a convenient way to help with your writing, regardless of the content.

No matter how well-seasoned of a writer you are, grammar checkers will serve as an extra eye to help you polish up your finished piece.

4. Content Creators

Fellow content creators can also serve as some much-needed inspiration or guidance.

Content creation helpers will allow writers to help make their content formatted to look professional and smooth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions people have about oxymorons.  

What part of speech is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech.

Can a person be an oxymoron?

Yes!

While someone’s personality can be consistent, our behaviors and actions can sometimes shift based on human emotions.

Humans make mistakes and are capable of change, meaning that sometimes our actions can contradict us.

A person can be extremely smart in one academic subject and then not excel as much in another subject.

Wrapping Up

Writing can be hard!

Sometimes coming up with things to write about can be frustrating but sometimes trying to express them presents real adversity.

Using a literary device like the oxymoron is an admirable way to introduce voice and humor into our writing.

Their presence makes writing more interesting and worthwhile.

Oxymoron is just a crucial part of developing a writer’s voice and sense of individual creativity.

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