Share quotes from famous books or tips for budding writers.

What is an Oxymoron? Explained With Some Seriously Good Examples

Not many of us know what an oxymoron is, but we do use it often in our day-to-day conversation. In this Penlighten article, we will shed some light on this very attribute of English language and also provide some examples of the same.
Abhijit Naik
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
An open book with a William Shakespeare portrait
Many a time, you come across sentences which have a combination of two words which contradict each other. Some of the most popular examples of this include sentences with phrases like small crowd, open secret, virtual reality, and so on. You yourself must have used the same, or at least, laughed at someone using it at some or the other point of time. Did you know that this is actually a figure of speech in English language.
Oxymoron Explained
According to the definition of oxymoron, it is a figure of speech which combines two words with contradictory meanings. This includes phrases like accurate estimate or deliberate mistake, which are inadvertent errors, and deafening silence or sweet sorrow, which are deliberately used to reveal a paradox. The self-contradiction of these phrases can be attributed to the fact that one of these words is either not used literally, or has some other meaning as well. Interestingly, the word 'oxymoron' is derived from the combination of Greek words, 'oxus', meaning pointed or sharp, and 'moros', meaning blunt or dull.
While many sources cite that the plural of oxymoron is oxymora and not oxymorons, that has not stopped people from using it widely. An oxymoron can also be used as a pun; open secret or lonely in a crowd are best examples of the same. More importantly, this figure of speech is not restricted to a phrase with two contradictory words. It can be in the form of a sentence as well. Going through the examples given below will help you get a better understanding of an oxymoron in context of literature, poetry, etc.
Examples of Oxymora
There are thousands of examples of this figure of speech in literature. Even William Shakespeare, the eminent playwright, used it in his most memorable works. The instance wherein Juliet says "Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow" in Romeo and Juliet, and "Do that good mischief which may make this island thine own forever" from Macbeth are the best examples of Shakespearean oxymora. Basically there is no dearth of oxymora in poetry and literature.
This figure of speech has also made its way into a couple of memorable quotes. Some of the best examples of the same include Paul Fussell's "I find nothing more depressing than optimism." and Winston Churchill's "A joke is a very serious thing.". While those were some examples of intentional use, there also exist examples of the same which are a result of error in grammar and composition. It would be a bit harsh on our part to expect kids to understand its examples in literature, so here's a list of some simple oxymoron examples for them.
  • Random order
  • Clearly confused
  • Constant change
  • Growing small
  • Typically unusual
  • Genuine imitation
  • Terribly good
  • Numb sensation
  • Recent history
  • Act naturally
It is very important to understand that oxymoron is not a grammatical mistake. In fact, it's a powerful figure of speech, which, if incorporated in a correct manner, can make your sentence pretty powerful!