100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons

Compressed Paradoxes Found Missing

Jumbo Shrimp oxymoron
Daniel X. O'Neil via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The rhetorical term oxymoron, made up of two Greek words meaning "sharp" and "dull," is itself oxymoronic.

As you probably remember from school, an oxymoron is a compressed paradox: a figure of speech in which seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side. British writer Thomas Gibbons characterized the figure as "sense in the masquerade of folly."

The oxymoron has also been called "the show-off" figure, one that gives voice to life's inherent conflicts and incongruities.

"The true beauty of oxymorons," says Richard Watson Todd, "is that, unless we sit back and really think, we happily accept them as normal English." Todd illustrates his point in the following passage:

It was an open secret that the company had used a paid volunteer to test the plastic glasses. Although they were made using liquid gas technology and were an original copy that looked almost exactly like a more expensive brand, the volunteer thought that they were pretty ugly and that it would be simply impossible for the general public to accept them. On hearing this feedback, the company board was clearly confused and there was a deafening silence. This was a minor crisis and the only choice was to drop the product line.
(Much Ado About English. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2006)

But then all of that may be old news to you.

Like other kinds of figurative language, oxymorons (or oxymora) are often found in literature.

However, as shown by this list of 100 awfully good examples, oxymorons are also part of our everyday speech.

 

  1. "absent presence"
    (Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney)
  2. alone together
  3. awful good
  4. "beggarly riches"
    (Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne)
  5. bitter sweet
  6. "brisk vacancy"
    ("Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" by John Ashbery)
  1. cheerful pessimist
  2. civil war
  3. clearly misunderstood
  4. "comfortable misery"
    (One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz)
  5. conspicuous absence
  6. cool passion
  7. crash landing
  8. cruel kindness
  9. "darkness visible"
    (Paradise Lost by John Milton)
  10. deafening silence
  11. deceptively honest
  12. definite maybe
  13. deliberate speed
  14. devout atheist
  15. dull roar
  16. eloquent silence
  17. even odds
  18. exact estimate
  19. extinct life
  20. "falsely true"
    (Lancelot and Elaine by Lord Tennyson)
  21. festive tranquility
  22. found missing
  23. freezer burn
  24. friendly takeover
  25. genuine imitation
  26. good grief
  27. growing smaller
  28. guest host
  29. historical present
  30. humane slaughter
  31. icy hot
  32. idiot savant
  33. ill health
  34. impossible solution
  35. intense apathy
  36. joyful sadness
  37. jumbo shrimp
  38. larger half
  39. "lascivious grace"
    (Sonnet 40 by William Shakespeare)
  40. lead balloon
  41. "liquid marble"
    (Poetaster by Ben Jonson)
  42. living dead
  43. living end
  44. living sacrifices
  45. loosely sealed
  46. loud whisper
  47. loyal opposition
  48. magic realism
  49. "melancholy merriment"
    (Don Juan by Lord Byron)
  50. militant pacifist
  51. minor miracle
  52. negative growth
  53. negative income
  54. old news
  55. one-man band
  56. only choice
  57. openly deceptive
  58. open secret
  59. original copy
  60. overbearingly modest
  61. paper tablecloth
  62. paper towel
  63. peaceful conquest
  64. plastic glasses
  65. plastic silverware
  66. poor health
  67. pretty ugly
  68. properly ridiculous
  69. random order
  70. recorded live
  71. resident alien
  1. sad smile
  2. same difference
  3. "scalding coolness"
    (For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway)
  4. seriously funny
  5. shrewd dumbness
  6. silent scream
  7. small crowd
  8. soft rock
  9. "The Sound of Silence"
    (song by Paul Simon)
  10. static flow
  11. steel wool
  12. student teacher
  13. "sweet sorrow"
    (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)
  14. terribly good
  15. theoretical experience
  16. "transparent night"
    ("When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d" by Walt Whitman)
  17. true fiction
  18. True Lies
    (movie directed by James Cameron)
  19. unbiased opinion
  20. unconscious awareness
  21. upward fall
  22. wise fool
  23. working vacation

For extensive examples of other figures of speech, visit the following pages: