ox·​y·​mo·​ron | \ˌäk-si-ˈmȯr-ˌän, -sē-\
plural oxymora\ˌäk-​si-​ˈmȯr-​ə, -​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

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Other Words from oxymoron

oxymoronic \ˌäk-​si-​mə-​ˈrä-​nik, -​mȯ-​, -​sē-​ \ adjective
oxymoronically \ˌäk-​si-​mə-​ˈrä-​ni-​k(ə-​)lē, -​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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Which is a logistical problem that echoes a philosophical one in both the show and our own world: Isn’t the term virtual reality inevitably an oxymoron? Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "Westworld’s Virtual Afterlife Might Not Be Fiction," 27 June 2018 The work’s effect demands an oxymoron: daintily powerful, say, or deliriously serene. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "The Utopian Vision of Bodys Isek Kingelez," 4 June 2017 Unpretentiously lavish may sound like an oxymoron, but that's exactly what this lakeside estate embodies. Birmingham Magazine, AL.com, "Incredible Lake Martin 'palace' is surrounded by water," 30 Apr. 2018 This is the sportiest of the Camrys (no, the words sporty and Camry are no longer oxymorons), complete with quad exhausts and a black roof, spoiler, window surrounds, grille, and wheels. Al Haas, Philly.com, "2018 Toyota Camry adds style and zip | Al Haas," 3 Apr. 2018

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.

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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

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The first known use of oxymoron was in 1657

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English Language Learners Definition of oxymoron

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

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