Definition and Examples of Oxymoron

Oxymoron (literally, the “sense” in the masquerade of “folly”), is a collocation of two or more logically contradictory terms in a sentence, that literally correspond with one another in sense, such as:

“A coward dies often, a brave man but once”

“He is a living death” (said of a man in a consumption, or of a malefactor under condemnation.)

“An idiot or a madman is his own grave”

Oxymoron also consists in how the afflictions of a righteous man may be termed, in accordance to the blessed notion in which the Scripture signifies them:

“salutary wounds”

“healthful diseases”

“happy pains”

“profitable losses”

“bitter sweets,” and

“exalting absements”

Oxymoron may be regarded as a sub-set of paradoxOpens in new window, which encompasses a broader spectrum of logically contradictory terms.

The term is first recorded as latinized Greek oxymōrum, in Maurus Servius HonoratusOpens in new window (c. AD 400); it is derived from the Greek ὀξύς oksús “sharp, keen, pointed” and μωρόςmōros “dull, stupid, foolish”; as it were,

“sharp-dull”, “keenly stupid”, or “pointedly foolish”.

Hence, the word oxymoron is autologicalOpens in new window, i.e. it is itself a signification of an Oxymoron.

Notable Examples in the Scriptures

Instances of Oxymoron may be found with in the Scriptures:

  1. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”

    — (Prov. xi:24)

  2. “And they, that is, the Apostles, departed the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ.”

    — (Acts v:41)

    (Here, Glory and shame seem so contradictory; but it is the highest honour to be used with indignity for the cause of Christ and his testimony.)

Notable Examples in the Literature

We may meet with examples of Oxymoron in some of the finest erudite scholars:

  1. He is unmercifully merciful; said of the character of a Prince who does not punish flagitious offenders in such a manner, as a wise regard to the general good of his subjects requires.
  2. “How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
    How complicate, how wonderful is man!”

    — (Dr. Young)

  3. “No condition, in effect, can be evil, or sad to a pious man; his very sorrows are pleasant, his infirmities are wholesome, his wants enrich him, his disgraces adorn him.”

    — (Dr. Barrow, Sermon on the Profitableness of Godliness, vol. 1. P. 17)

  4. “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
    O anything, of nothing first create!
    O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
    Mis-shapen 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.”

    — (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.175 – 177)

  5. “It has the poorest millionaires, the littlest of great men, the haughtiest beggars, the plainest beauties, the lowest skyscrapers, the dolefullest pleasures of any town I ever saw.”

    — (By O. Henry, on describing New York in his story, The Duel [1910]).

Important Hint! 

Oxymoron as a rhetorical figure is quite essential and yet so delicate; if judiciously employed, may prove a resilient and superior genius, that can permeate the midst of dangers, and land securely, in its own strength, on the very edge of a precipice.

This figure may fill the minds of an audience with pleasing surprise, charm them with novelty, and raise a great idea of the talents of the orator; while they find upon reflection, that what at first appeared contradictory is admirably meaningful, and see it breaking out in its force and beauty, even from an expression or sentence, which they for a moment were ready to condemn as foolish and absurd.

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