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What is an oxymoron?
Basically, an oxymoron is a phrase or figure of speech that takes two words together that appear to have opposite meanings, i.e., a contradiction in terms.
Oxymoron comes from two words in Greek: oxy, meaning sharp, and moros, meaning dull. These are two opposites - so you could say the word oxymoron is an oxymoron!
The plural for oxymoron is oxymora.
When is it used?
Some oxymorons are found in common day language, such as "white chocolate" (these are two different colours, although the term chocolate is actually meant to be the food chocolate, and not the colour chocolate), or "pianoforte" (this means soft-loud). Writers often use oxymorons intended to create an ironic sense of humour or to create puns. They can also use oxymorons to emphasize certain qualities or ideas, or even to confuse the reader.
Some common examples of oxymorons
Oxymorons used for humour
Uses in Literature
"Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything of nothing first create,
A heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead…"
Juliet also makes some oxymorons when she finds about Romeo killing her cousin.
"O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical'
Dove-feathered raven, wolfish ravening lamb'
A damned saint, an honourable villain"
A popular English poet, Alfred Tennyson, makes has two oxymorons within this line of his poem Idylls of the King:
"And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true"
You see here the ability of oxymorons to emphasis meaning in literature. What other oxymorons can you think of?