Oxymoron: Definition, Types & Examples

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Oxymoron is one of the few figures of speech that deals with contradictions of sense and meaning. In literature, oxymorons are used to imply the contractions in life that the standard words fail to accommodate due to the notions established on pure binaries.

What is Oxymoron?

Oxymoron is a figure of speech that is mostly used in literary language to create uncanny contrast between contradictory terms by putting them side by side.

The word “Oxymoron” is composed of two Greek words, “oxys” meaning sharp or keen and “moros” meaning dull, stupid or foolish, having completely contradictory meanings. In that sense, the term itself is oxymoronic in nature.

Types of Oxymorons

Oxymorons can be categorized into different types based on various factors. Depending on the circumstance that the oxymorons are used, they can be categorized as natural, literary, punning, humorous, accidental and deliberate oxymorons. Based on how many words make the oxymoron, they can be divided into single-word and double-word categories.

Single-word Oxymoron

In these oxymorons, two opposite or contrasting ideas are conjugated inside a single word. 

Dependent Morphemes

These sets of oxymorons are made out of two morphemes (the smallest unit in language) that construct a single word. The morphemes are dependent on one another to convey the full meaning. i.e. Fortepiano (that is the formal name of the piano; “piano” means soft and “forte” means loud), preposterous (it means to be devoid of reason; “pre” is something before the start and “post” means after the end of something), superette (small supermarket; “super” means bigger or better and the suffix, “-ette” indicates small) etc. 

Independent Morphemes

These single-word oxymorons can be split into two morphemes that carry contradictory meanings but sit together to represent a combination of both concepts no matter how distinct. The two morphemes in these oxymorons do not depend on one another to be complete. They individually make complete sense and join together to create a more refined meaning as figures of speech. i.e. Spendthrift (someone who spends loads; "spend" is to buy stuff with money and "thrift' means to not be wasteful), bridegroom (the guy getting married; "bride" is the wife and "groom" is the husband at their wedding), bittersweet (sweet but with a bitter aftertaste; "bitter" is a sharp pungent taste or smell and "sweet" is a soft pleasant taste or smell) etc.

Double-word Oxymoron

Any oxymoron that is not a single-word oxymoron is most certainly a double-word one since an oxymoron is about two contradictory ideas. These oxymorons consist of two completely opposite words standing separate from one another and emitting a deeper meaning when considered as one unit. i.e. industrial park, open secret, recorded live etc.

Example of Oxymorons

  • Compound Word Oxymorons: Frenemy, love-hate, sophomore, oxymoron, pianoforte etc.
  • Adjective + Noun Oxymorons: Controlled chaos, fine mess, deafening silence, peaceful war, heavy lightness etc.
  • Adverb + Adjective Oxymorons: Strangely familiar, perfectly imperfect, painfully beautiful, definitely undecided etc.
  • Phrasal Oxymoron: Act naturally, agree to disagree, kill with kindness, make haste slowly etc.
  • Dead Metaphors: Awful(ly) good, barely clothed, hardly easy, damn(ed) good etc.
  • Doublespeak Oxymorons: Real counterfeit, mandatory option, virtually spotless etc.


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