ox·​y·​mo·​ron ˌäk-si-ˈmȯr-ˌän How to pronounce oxymoron (audio)
plural oxymorons also 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.

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Much like jumbo shrimp or a cool goatee, the concept of a great place to work has become somewhat of an oxymoron. Chloe Berger, Fortune, 4 Apr. 2024 While great food at a fair price in South Beach might be thought of as an oxymoron, there is no place like Macchialina, an Italian restaurant on the west side of the island, away from all the tourist action, where the pasta is not to be missed. Salomé Gómez-Upegui, Vogue, 4 Dec. 2023 See all Example Sentences for oxymoron 

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 15 Apr. 2024.

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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