ox·​y·​mo·​ron ˌäk-si-ˈmȯr-ˌän How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)
plural oxymorons or less commonly oxymora ˌäk-si-ˈmȯr-ə How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)
: a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness)
broadly : something (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements
oxymoronic adjective
oxymoronically adverb

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a person be an oxymoron?

While we are loath to place restrictions on language use, oxymoron usually refers to a set of contradictory words (such as bittersweet) rather than to a contradictory person. We must also inform you that an oxymoron and a moron have little in common except that both words come from the Greek word for "foolish" (mōros).

What is the difference between oxymoron and paradox?

An oxymoron is a self-contradicting word or group of words (as in Shakespeare’s line from Romeo and Juliet, "Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!"). A paradox is a statement or argument that seems to be contradictory or to go against common sense, but that is yet perhaps still true—for example, "less is more."

Is oxymoronic a word?

Yes. Oxymoronic is the adjectival form of oxymoron. Oxymoronically is the adverbial form of the word. There is, we regret to inform you, no commonly used verb form of the word.

Example Sentences

The phrase "Broadway rock musical" is an oxymoron. Broadway doesn't have the nerve to let the really hard stuff in the house. Mark Coleman, Rolling Stone, 26 Dec. 1996/ 9 Jan. 1997
Taken to its logical conclusion, this emphasis on the fragmentation of the body politic makes postmodern feminism an oxymoron: feminism and virtually all our laws against sex discrimination reflect the presumption that women do in fact constitute a political category. Wendy Kaminer, Atlantic, October 1993
He calls himself a "bleeding-heart conservative," and that oxymoron sums up the unique [Jack F.] Kemp role in the Bush Administration: the apostle of free enterprise who is the ambassador to the poor. William Safire, New York Times Magazine, 25 Mar. 1990
As the war went on, "precision bombing" became a comical oxymoron relished by bomber crews with a sense of black humor. Paul Fussell, Wartime, 1989
The phrase “cruel kindness” is an oxymoron.
Recent Examples on the Web Which, for me, has been, and with any luck will continue to be, the golden oxymoron of the American experiment. Neal B. Freeman, National Review, 10 Feb. 2023 The group was asked by Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times fashion director and chief fashion critic, who moderated the discussion, to take on the oxymoron of sustainable fashion. Christine Muhlke, New York Times, 7 Dec. 2022 But the locals say what would be an oxymoron elsewhere works out rather well in the town once governed by disgraced FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for assaulting two underage girls. Mark Eddington, The Salt Lake Tribune, 28 Aug. 2022 The phrase, which slipped out during an interview from the BFI London Film Festival, struck me as some kind of oxymoron at first: How could a rugged, true-to-life depiction of a struggling working-class English couple possibly coexist with that most surreal of cinematic genres? Peter Debruge, Variety, 27 Oct. 2021 He’s confined to a leather club chair — teaching leadership while sedentary seems an oxymoron, diluting his very Billness — while she’s perched in a delicate cream linen chair on a set swathed in Tiffany blue. Washington Post, 21 Dec. 2021 Loafers are inherently an oxymoron. Gaby Keiderling, Harper's BAZAAR, 19 Jan. 2023 Online privacy is an oxymoron. Kim Komando, USA TODAY, 7 July 2022 Ashley Chandrasinghe is a player to watch in the future - and that's not an oxymoron. Tristan Lavalette, Forbes, 27 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'oxymoron.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Greek oxymōron, from neuter of oxymōros pointedly foolish, from Greek oxys sharp, keen + mōros foolish

First Known Use

1657, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of oxymoron was in 1657


Dictionary Entries Near oxymoron

Cite this Entry

“Oxymoron.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron. Accessed 9 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


ox·​y·​mo·​ron ˌäk-si-ˈmōr-ˌän How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)
plural oxymorons also oxymora -ˈmōr-ə How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)
: a combination of contradictory words (as cruel kindness)

from Greek oxymōros "pointedly foolish," from Greek oxys "sharp, keen" and mōros "foolish"

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