Paradox: Definition, Types and Examples

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People often struggle to completely understand the use of paradoxes. Though they merely posit self-contradicting phrases or statements that sit next to one another, they serve slightly different purposes in language and literature. Taking a look at their definition and examples side by side will help see how exactly these figures of speech facilitate the artsy use of the English language.

What is Figure of Speech?

The figure of speech is the ordinary usage of language that is employed to create emphasis, amplify meanings, draw comparisons or make distinct rhetorical points. They are also termed figurative language and rhetorical devices. These fancy curves in language are mostly used in literature to mask deeper meanings in ordinary succinct usage of language. There are a wide variety of rhetorical devices in the English language such as - metaphor, simile, hyperbole, anaphora etc.

What is Paradox?

Paradox is a figure of speech that seems to lead to an illogical contradiction or a situation that contradicts common sense and reasoning. Paradoxical statements contradict themselves while creating a rare sense of depth in language.

The “paradox” derives from the French word, paradoxe that means “a statement contrary to common belief or expectation.” The Greek word, paradoxon means contrary to expectation.

Types of Paradoxes

There are two major types of paradoxes in English and they are elaborated on below:

Literary Paradox

Literary Paradox is the paradoxical contradictions (usually found in literature) that resolve to disclose a deeper meaning than what is imminent on the surface. John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 11” states, “Death, thou shalt die” which is logically impossible to expect death itself to die. In the context of the sonnet, the poet is bashing death for all the trouble it causes and breathes a sigh of relief that the fear of death would cease to exist when in heaven.

Logical Paradox

The Logical Paradox tends to defy logic and is considered unresolvable. The unresolvable chicken-egg paradox can be a good example of the logical paradox category. If the chicken came first, where did the egg come from? And if the egg came first, where did that egg come from? There is no logic that can definitively resolve this endless loop of a question as to what came before what?

Examples of Paradox

  • Save money by spending it.
  • If I know one thing, it's that I know nothing.
  • This is the beginning of the end.
  • Deep down, you're really shallow.
  • I'm a compulsive liar.
  • "Men work together whether they work together or apart." - Robert Frost
  • "What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young." - George Bernard Shaw
  • "I can resist anything but temptation." - Oscar Wilde
  • Here are the rules: Ignore all rules.
  • The second sentence is false. The first sentence is true.
  • I only message those who do not message.

Following the above article closely should clear out any doubt one has about paradoxes. With the help of carefully curated examples above, one can get an in-depth idea about how they are used in language to draw out the deepest of meanings that ensure emphasis of necessary areas. Clever use of figures of speech can change the feel of your written piece so knowing about them in detail will help take your writing to the next level.


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