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Oxymoron or Paradox? Definition with Examples

In common writing, you may find that people make many contradictions with themselves. From politicians to playwrights, most people can’t stick to one stance. With this, however, are there any literary devices that writers can use to harness this power of contradiction? There are! Oxymorons are literary tools that allow writers to play with meaning by using contradictory terms. 

What Are Oxymorons? 

As touched upon, oxymorons are contradicting words used to create a unique meaningful phrase. The term “oxymoron” originates from the Greek words meaning “dull” and “sharp,” which shows its absurdity. 

Although it may seem like an odd literary device, most readers usually widely appreciate and understand oxymorons, making them a powerful tool! 

What Do Oxymorons Do? 

Oxymorons help to create a fun and creative tone, as well as emphasize turmoil within an idea. In addition to this overall function, oxymorons have around four main purposes.

  • First of all, oxymorons work to create drama within your sentence. Because they are so unique, they catch the reader’s eye and make them think. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the opposing words supports each other, creating a strong and dramatic message for your reader.
  • Oxymorons can also work to portray a deep and developed meaning to your reader. In cases where we can’t easily describe the absurdity and complexity of something, oxymorons usually are great resources. Oxymorons can be so effective that they create a new meaning. For instance, popular oxymorons such as “bittersweet” or “virtual reality” have taken on a meaning that creates a vivid image in readers’ minds. 
  • Oxymorons can also add comedy and irony to your writing. Oxymoronic irony exists in oxymorons whose cultural meanings differ from each other (as well as their literal meanings). Additionally, the absurdity and literal confusion that oxymorons have bring a level of lightheartedness and comedy to your work. 
  • Lastly, oxymorons can bring a playful tone to your writing. Oxymorons take a level of comedic understanding and informality to understand. Putting oxymorons in your creative/informal writing can easily set the playful tone you are looking for. 

Oxymorons And Paradoxes 

As they have similar usage, many writers often get oxymorons and paradoxes mixed up. Differences between the two still however exist.

The main difference is that oxymorons are devices that use contradictory words, while paradoxes use contradictory thoughts in a generally larger statement that challenges logic and reasoning. 

In other words, oxymorons are the juxtaposition of words, while paradoxes challenge ideas, logic, and reasoning. Here are some examples of paradoxes:

  • If I know one thing, it’s that I know nothing.
  • This is the beginning of the end.
  • Deep down, you’re really shallow.
  • “Men work together whether they work together or apart.” – Robert Frost.

Examples of Common Oxymorons 

Oxymorons are so popular with writers that they can be found in conversational English. Read the following examples of popular English oxymorons: 

  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Virtual reality
  • Bittersweet 
  • Close distance
  • Climb down
  • Pretty ugly 
  • Living dead 
  • Grow smaller
  • Big baby
  • Passive-aggressive
  • Slave wages
  • Classic novel
  • Idiot savant 

Oxymoron Examples from Literature

It should also be noted that oxymorons can be found in many works of literature. From Stephen King to Shakespeare, oxymorons have found their place in the English language.

For instance, one great example can be found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, where oxymorons such as “brawling love” and “loving hate” can be found. In this work, the oxymorons show the inner pain, turmoil, and confusion that the speaker is feeling. 

Similarly, other examples can be found in novels such as Jane Eyre, where a speaker describes his feelings as a “delicious poison,” telling the reader about his tumultuous love. Additionally, oxymorons can also be found in words such as Call of the Wild, where the aurora Borealis is described to be “flaming coldly.”

If nothing else, these classic examples should just go to show have engrained, and popular oxymorons have become in the English language. You don’t have to be hot-shot author to use oxymorons however, as they can add some spice to any work of writing! 

Related: Here is a Video with 20 Funny Examples of an Oxymoron

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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