oxymoron

noun
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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

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 The seeming oxymoron of extravagant ease has long been, for example, a basic precept of Dries Van Noten, for whom dressing for comfort is an inalienable right, and the tension between apparent opposites is what keeps things interesting. Vanessa Friedman, New York Times, "Thrown for a Loop at Dries Van Noten and Chloé," 1 Mar. 2018 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

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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Statistics for oxymoron

Last Updated

14 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for oxymoron

The first known use of oxymoron was in 1657

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More Definitions for oxymoron

oxymoron

noun

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

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