Guide to Literary Terms Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What are some examples of oxymorons and their meanings? An example used in this guide was "sophomore" meaning "sopho - wise" and "more - foolish". I am just curious as to other words used in everyday language which would fall in the category of "oxymoron".

Expert Answers info

litlady33 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write272 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

An Oxymoron is a contradiction in terms. It can be a word or a phrase that have two parts that seem not to go together but somehow do. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary uses the example "Cruel Kindness." "Cruel" and kindness are two opposite words, but kindness can be cruel in certain sitations. There are many other examples. Here are a few:

  1. Jumbo shrimp- jumbo means big and shrimp means small, but there are some shrimp that are relatively large, so they are called "Jumbo."
  2. Act natural- how can one "act natural" when acting is itself unnatural?
  3. Loud silence- silence is... silent. But it can be very loud

There is a long list of possible oxymorons on the website attached below. Sometimes whether something is an oxymoron depends on perspective. "Good morning" might be an oxymoron to someone who despises mornings and considers them anything but good.

Once you get familiar with oxymorons, you will start seeing them in literature everywhere, especially with authors who like to play with words, such as Shakespeare.


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Stephen Holliday eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write859 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

I'll be facetious for a moment and give you an oxymoron we liked to use when I was in the Army--whenever any showed up from the office of Military Intelligence, we used to laugh a lot in the believe that it made no sense to yoke the word "military" with "intelligence."

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms are joined, for example:

from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we have "O loving hate," "O heavy lightness," "cold fire," and "sick health."  All of these constructions are contradictory and should cancel each other out, but because they make one stop and think about the image, usually succeed in creating a meaningful image in the reader's mind.

from John Done, "O miserable abundance, O beggarly riches! (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)--the images created are fresh and striking because the reader has to stop for a second and conceptualize what a "miserable abundance" might mean--in this case, most likely, "I'm wealthy but take no pleasure in my riches."

An oxymoron is usually meant to stop a reader in his or her tracks to visualize the image created by the oxymoron, and if it is a successful use of the rhetorical technique, the image becomes memorable and perfectly appropriate for the context.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

udonbutterfly | Student

My favorite ones would have to be old news and dull roar. I get a crack out of hearing them all the time. Old news being that how can news be old when it is new? Then how can a roar be dull when a roar is loud. I know what they are used to mean but oxymoron's can be so much fun to play with haha.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
manustoph | Student

An oxymoron is a word or phrase that contradicts itself.  Examples include: jumbo shrimp, ground pilot and a literay example includes William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet when Juliet says, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."  The word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron; in Greek, oxy-means "sharp" or "wise," while moros means "foolish."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial