What Is An Oxymoron?
What is an oxymoron?
An oxymoron is an expression in which two or more words contradict each other, yet have a meaning that is understood by most people. Many oxymorons aren’t obvious until you really think about them (which in part is what makes them so much fun). Now a moron, on the other hand, is a person who is noticeably stupid, which is exactly what makes them not fun at all.
There! I hope that I have described for you the difference between oxymorons and morons, and since you’re reading this, we know that you’re not a moron, don’t we? 😉
(By the way, just so you know, ‘moron’ is an extremely rude word, and I’m only using it here for fun. It isn’t a good idea to call people morons.)
‘Dry Creek Water Park’ is an example of an oxymoron.
A creek is a stream leading off a river and into the sea, so how can we have a “dry creek”?
Also, if the creek really is dry, then how can it be part of a “water park”?
Shouldn’t a water park have–at the very least–water?
We can use oxymorons on purpose, to make what we’re saying sound more interesting. For example, someone might say, “My exam was a bittersweet experience.” (If something is bitter, it can’t be sweet, and if it’s sweet, it can’t be bitter.) Even though the expression contradicts itself, somehow it still makes sense, and we understand that the speaker means his experience was both bitter and sweet.
Okay, now you have a go. Try to identify the two oxymorons in the following sentence:
It is an open secret that anyone who can spot oxymorons quickly must be awfully good at grammar.
Examples of oxymorons.
Were your answers right? Good. If not, don’t worry. Practice makes perfect, and now I will share my favourite examples of oxymorons with you, explaining each one as we go along.
Let’s get started.
- Pretty ugly – this oxymoron is straightforward. Is the person pretty or ugly? I’m pretty sure she or it can’t be both!
- Silent scream – another simple oxymoron. Is it silent, or a scream?
- Original copy – what? Is it original, or is it a copy?
- Working holiday (US: working vacation) – wait, are you working, or are you on holiday? You can’t be doing both at the same time.
- Random order – this one always makes me laugh. If things are in order, then they are not arranged randomly.
- Plastic glasses – again, this is simple. Is the thing made of plastic or glass?
- One-man band – but a band has more than one person in it, so how can it have just one man?
- Recorded live – how many times have you heard this? If we record it, it isn’t live! If it is live, it isn’t a recording. (However, we understand what the expression is getting at.)
- Found missing – if it’s found, it isn’t missing; if it’s missing, it hasn’t been found.
- Good grief – I don’t know about you, but I never find grief to be ‘good’.
- Paid volunteer – another simple one, I think. If a person is being paid, he is not volunteering; if he is volunteering, he’s not being paid.
- Unbiased opinion – unlike the others in this list, this one is naughty, and you should always pay attention when anyone uses it. An opinion is a personal belief which is is not founded on proof, which is why opinions are not facts! If something is unbiased, then it founded on fact. Politicians, journalists and others who use this expression are lying. Don’t listen to them–and don’t use it yourself!
- Old news – well, by now, I’m sure you’re getting the hang of oxymorons, so you will have realised that if it is news, it must be – er, new. 😁
No, I don’t mean some strange kind of moronic criminal. I mean examples of phrases which appear to be oxymorons… but are they? What do you think?
- Civil war – One meaning of the word ‘civil’ is: harmless, polite and kind. Obviously, war is never harmless or kind, so it would appear that ‘civil war’ is an oxymoron. However… another meaning of the word ‘civil’ is: of the people of the same country. So, a ‘civil war’ is a war fought between the people of the same country. This differs from most wars, which are fought between people of different countries.
- Social distancing – A dictionary definition of ‘social’ is: seeking or enjoying the companionship of others. On the other hand, ‘distancing’ is to keep others at arm’s length, to be aloof, so yes, I think it is an oxymoron.
If you have read this article carefully, by now you ought to be quite comfortable with oxymorons, so here is something to think about.
Question: over exaggerate – is it an oxymoron?
Please leave your answer by making a comment below.