plural: oxymora, oxymorons


"So fair and foul a day I have not seen!"

William Shakespeare

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that deliberately uses two contradictory ideas. This contradiction creates a paradoxical image in the reader or listener's mind that generates a new concept or meaning for the whole. Some typical oxymorons are:

  • a living death
  • sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind
  • a deafening silence
  • bitter-sweet
  • The Sounds of Silence (song title)
  • make haste slowly
  • he was conspicuous by his absence

Pseudo Oxymorons

In the standard meaning of oxymoron the contradiction is deliberate. However, in popular usage oxymoron is sometimes used to mean "contradiction in terms", where the contradiction is unintentional. Such expressions, unlike real oxymorons, are commonly used without any sense of paradox in everyday language, for example:

  • anecdotal evidence
  • friendly fire
  • pretty ugly

A common attempt at humour is to describe a certain phrase as an oxymoron, implying that the two parts of the phrase are mutually exclusive and that consequently the phrase as a whole must be nonsensical:

  • airline food
  • American culture
  • Microsoft security
  • Microsoft Works
  • military intelligence