ox·​y·​mo·​ron | \ ˌäk-si-ˈmȯr-ˌän How to pronounce oxymoron (audio) , -sē- \
plural oxymora\ ˌäk-​si-​ˈmȯr-​ə How to pronounce oxymora (audio) , -​sē-​ \

Definition of oxymoron

: 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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from oxymoron

oxymoronic \ ˌäk-​si-​mə-​ˈrä-​nik How to pronounce oxymoronic (audio) , -​mȯ-​ , -​sē-​ \ adjective
oxymoronically \ ˌäk-​si-​mə-​ˈrä-​ni-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce oxymoronically (audio) , -​mȯ-​ , -​sē-​ \ adverb

What is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a word or group of words that is self-contradicting, as in bittersweet or plastic glass. Oxymorons are often used in literature. One famous example abounding with oxymorons is the following speech by Romeo from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O any thing, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness! serious vanity!

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

Oxymorons are similar to but distinct from the devices of paradox and antithesis. While an oxymoron is a self-contradicting word or group of words, 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." Antithesis, meanwhile, refers to the contrast of ideas through the use of parallel language, as in the phrase "action, not words," and in President Kennedy's famous injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Did You Know?

The Greeks exhaustively classified the elements of rhetoric, or effective speech and writing, and gave the name oxymoron, literally "pointed foolishness," to the deliberate juxtaposing of seemingly contradictory words. The roots of oxymoron - oxys, meaning "sharp" or "keen," and moros, meaning "foolish" - are nearly antonyms themselves, making oxymoron nicely self-descriptive. Oxymoron originally applied to a meaningful paradox condensed into a couple of words, as in "precious bane," "lonely crowd," or "sweet sorrow." Today, however, oxymoron can also refer to unintentional contradictions, like "a plastic glass."

Examples of oxymoron in a Sentence

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web What sounds like an oxymoron mostly refers to synthetic products. Denitsa Tsekova, Fortune, "Sizing Up Vegan Leather: Is It Just A Fad?," 23 Aug. 2019 What sounds like an oxymoron mostly refers to synthetic products. Washington Post, "What Is Vegan Leather, and Should You Be Wearing It?," 23 Aug. 2019 And here’s the real head-scratcher: The phrase Air Force football has long been considered somewhat of an oxymoron, because these Falcons don’t fly. Mark Kiszla, The Denver Post, "Kiszla: CU Buffs’ bad home loss to Air Force reminds us Pac-12 football is bad football," 14 Sep. 2019 Kate Middleton is a thoroughly modern royal—admittedly, a bit of an oxymoron. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, "Kate Middleton Doesn't Wear a Princess Elsa Dress, to the Disappointment of an Adorable Young Fan," 12 June 2019 Progressive prosecutors are merely delaying a pressing conversation about real radical reform and legitimizing a rotten system, according to critics who say progressive prosecution is an oxymoron. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "The problem with Tiffany Cabán and the new cult of “progressive prosecutors”," 28 June 2019 Tom Waits as Hermit Bob, a long-hair dropout resembling Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, is a homeless scavenger and community pet who embodies the oxymoron Democratic Socialist. Armond White, National Review, "The Dead Don’t Die: Climate-Change Comedy for the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Era," 14 June 2019 But that person was, without exception, typified as a white working man of rural origins, which became the synecdoche for Americanness itself, a reductive oxymoron of universality. Sarah Churchwell, The New York Review of Books, "America’s Original Identity Politics," 7 Feb. 2019 While a non-surgical nose job may sound like an oxymoron, the procedure is really further evidence that the injectable filler is a miracle of modern aesthetic medicine. Roxanne Adamiyatt, Town & Country, "Everything to You Need to Know When Considering a Non-Surgical Nose Job," 11 Mar. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'oxymoron.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of oxymoron

1657, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for oxymoron

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about oxymoron

Time Traveler for oxymoron

Time Traveler

The first known use of oxymoron was in 1657

See more words from the same year

Statistics for oxymoron

Last Updated

20 Oct 2019

Cite this Entry

“Oxymoron.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oxymoron?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=o&file=oxymor01. Accessed 7 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for oxymoron


How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of oxymoron

: a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings

More from Merriam-Webster on oxymoron

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with oxymoron

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about oxymoron

Comments on oxymoron

What made you want to look up oxymoron? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the study of flags

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!