What are some examples of oxymorons?

An oxymoron is a figure of speech combining terms that are usually contradictory of one another. Some examples are:

jumbo shrimp / colossal shrimp /extremely average /same difference / living dead / bad health / calculated risk / cruel to be kind / the sound of silence ~ deafening silence / open secret /almost pregnant / brutally handsome / blind eye / guest host / realistic fiction / unbiased opinion.

Some examples you will find are offered as oxymorons to make a point, such as: honest lawyer

military intelligence

business ethics

religious tolerance

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What an Oxymoron Is

The original oxymoron is "sweet and sour" (the Greek elements are: 'oxy' = acid, sharp and 'moron' = sweet, soft) -- nowadays "bittersweet" is perhaps the most common example, describing something that gives us pleasure but also has elements of sadness, regret or disappointment. An oxymoron is therefore a phrase usually involving two terms that seem to be contradictory or paradoxical but are both true. It should be distinguished from "a contradiction in terms" which means that one term or the other is likely to be untrue, that one term logically excludes the other one (the classic joke is "military intelligence"), however people often use the term "oxymoron" for a "contradiction in terms".

Perhaps what is most paradoxical and a little ironic is that oxymorons are often used in the English language and they are usually perfectly well understood, even though they are contradictory. But, then again, the boundaries of language and the shifting landscape of experience never quite match up, so it's a useful method of making people think about what you are trying to describe.

The following sentences and phrases are examples of oxymorons. The oxymorons are underlined and there is a brief explanation of why the underlined is considered an oxymoron.

  • His novel created a mild sensation in literary circles. A sensation is usually defined as an intense feeling. Something that is mild is lukewarm.
  • The lady is 90 years young. 90 years is considered to be old, so it is oxymoronic to put 'young' after years.
  • A woman killed with kindness. Killing somebody is murder and is seen as an unkind act.
  • The silence was deafening. Something that is deafening is usually thought of to be a loud noise, but silence is completely quiet.
  • He was clearly misunderstood. To be misunderstood means that people felt that what you said was unclear or was confusing.
  • We were fishing and caught some jumbo shrimp. Shrimp are small creatures and the word 'shrimp' is also used as an adjective for something that is small. Something that is jumbo is big.
  • Bob took a working vacation. A vacation is a resting period where you can get away from work.
  • Rough embrace An embrace is caring and gentle opposed to being rough.
  • Friendly fire A term usually used when a soldier is killed by a fellow soldier. Shooting at people is unfriendly, yet there is friendly fire.
  • Non-violent restraint Restraint is often times violent since you are witholding somebody from doing what they want to do.
  • Cold heat How can heat, that is hot, be cold?
  • Icy fire Something that is 'icy' is cold, whereas 'fire' is hot.
  • Feather of lead A feather is light in terms of weight, whereas lead is heavy.
  • Don't be a Moving Statue . This is a term often used in Baseball. Statues are incapable of moving body parts. To be moving is to be in action. Thus the irony.
  • "Hells Angels" Hell Is In The Bottom Of The World And Angels Live In Heaven.

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Here is a long paragraph with lots of them:

I can picture my friend 'Barking' Eddie, it's a pretty ugly sight. I see him half-naked, sipping non-alcoholic beer from his plastic glass. Then from time-to-time he nibbles on his cold hotdog, which is smothered in hot chili sauce. For pudding Eddie will be having freezer-burnt, white chocolate ice cream, with a plain fudge topping. Next week Eddie will be chaotically organizing a working holiday for Hell's Angels. This is a new tradition, as they will be spending a whole half-day on the top floor of his low-rise office. They are hoping to watch a live recording of a programme about turning green oranges into non-stick glue.

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Observations in Literature

  • O brawling love! O loving hate! . . .

    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."

    (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

  • "A yawn may be defined as a silent yell."

    (G.K. Chesterton)

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jumbo shrimp

small giant

great fail

pretty ugly

military intelligance

Deafening silence

A huge nothing

Judges are supposed to have unbiased opinions.

bright night

Canadian army

democratic southerners

Larger half

clearly confused

horrifically amazing

pretty awful

awfully wonderful

huge step