100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons

10 illustrations of oxymorons

ThoughtCo. 

An oxymoron is a figure of speech, usually one or two words, in which seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side. This contradiction is also known as a paradox. Writers and poets have used it for centuries as a literary device to describe life's inherent conflicts and incongruities. In speech, oxymorons can lend a sense of humor, irony, or sarcasm.

Using Oxymorons

The word "oxymoron" is itself oxymoronic, which is to say contradictory. The word is derived from two ancient Greek words: oxys, which means "sharp," and moronos, which means "dull" or "stupid." Take this sentence, for example:

"This was a minor crisis and the only choice was to drop the product line," (Todd 2007).

There are two oxymorons in this sentence: "minor crisis" and "only choice." If you're learning English as a second language, you might be confused by these figures of speech. Read literally, they contradict themselves. A crisis is defined as a time of serious difficulty or importance. By that measure, no crisis is unimportant or minor. Similarly, "choice" implies more than one option, which is contradicted by "only," which implies the opposite.

But once you become fluent in English, it's easy to recognize such oxymorons for the figures of speech that they are. As the example's author, Richard Watson Todd, said, "The true beauty of oxymorons is that, unless we sit back and really think, we happily accept them as normal English."

Oxymorons have been used since the days of the ancient Greek poets. William Shakespeare was known to sprinkle them throughout his plays, poems, and sonnets. Oxymorons also feature in modern comedy and politics. The conservative political writer William Buckley, for instance, became famous for quotes like, "An intelligent liberal is an oxymoron."

100 Examples of Oxymorons

Like other kinds of figurative language, oxymorons (or oxymora) are often found in literature. As shown by this list of 100 awfully good examples, oxymorons are also part of our everyday speech. You'll find common figures of speech, plus references to works of classic and pop culture.

  • absent presence (Sidney 1591)
  • alone together
  • awful good
  • beggarly riches (Donne 1624)
  • bittersweet
  • brisk vacancy (Ashbery 1975)
  • cheerful pessimist
  • civil war
  • clearly misunderstood
  • comfortable misery (Koontz 2001)
  • conspicuous absence
  • cool passion
  • crash landing
  • cruel kindness
  • darkness visible (Milton 1667)
  • deafening silence
  • deceptively honest
  • definite maybe
  • deliberate speed
  • devout atheist
  • dull roar
  • eloquent silence
  • even odds
  • exact estimate
  • extinct life
  • falsely true (Tennyson 1862)
  • festive tranquility
  • found missing
  • freezer burn
  • friendly takeover
  • genuine imitation
  • good grief
  • growing smaller
  • guest host
  • historical present
  • humane slaughter
  • icy hot
  • idiot savant
  • ill health
  • impossible solution
  • intense apathy
  • joyful sadness
  • jumbo shrimp
  • larger half
  • lascivious grace (Shakespeare 1609)
  • lead balloon
  • liquid marble (Jonson 1601)
  • living dead
  • living end
  • living sacrifices
  • loosely sealed
  • loud whisper
  • loyal opposition
  • magic realism
  • melancholy merriment (Byron 1819)
  • militant pacifist
  • minor miracle
  • negative growth
  • negative income
  • old news
  • one-man band
  • only choice
  • openly deceptive
  • open secret
  • original copy
  • overbearingly modest
  • paper tablecloth
  • paper towel
  • peaceful conquest
  • plastic glasses
  • plastic silverware
  • poor health
  • pretty ugly
  • properly ridiculous
  • random order
  • recorded live
  • resident alien
  • sad smile
  • same difference
  • scalding coolness (Hemingway 1940)
  • seriously funny
  • shrewd dumbness
  • silent scream
  • small crowd
  • soft rock
  • "The Sound of Silence" (Simon 1965)
  • static flow
  • steel wool
  • student teacher
  • "sweet sorrow" (Shakespeare 1595)
  • terribly good
  • theoretical experience
  • transparent night (Whitman 1865)
  • true fiction
  • unbiased opinion
  • unconscious awareness
  • upward fall
  • wise fool
  • working vacation

Sources

  • Ashbery, John. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Viking Press, 1975.
  • Byron, Lord. "Don Juan." 1819.
  • Donne, John. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. 1624.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940.
  • Jonson, Ben. "Poetaster." 1601.
  • Koontz, Dean. One Door Away From Heaven. Bantam Books, 2001.
  • Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Samuel Simmons, 1667.
  • Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. 1595.
  • Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 40." 1609.
  • Sidney, Philip. Astrophel and Stella. 1591.
  • Simon, Paul. "The Sound of Silence." Tom Wilson, 1965.
  • Tennyson, Alfred. "Lancelot and Elaine." Idylls of the King. 1862.
  • Todd, Richard Watson. Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating Language. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007.
  • Whitman, Walt. "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d." Sequel to Drum-Taps. 1865.
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