Oxymoron Examples to Study to Make Your Own Writing Better

Learn how oxymoron can brighten up your writing and add dramatic effect by studying classic oxymoron examples.

The English language has many literary devices you can use to liven up your writing. As you create a work for people to enjoy, consider adding some of these. Oxymoron is one that can be quite effective.

But before you can use oxymoron in your writing, you must know what it is. This guide will explore the definition of the word oxymoron and give examples from everyday language and classic literature. Exploring these will help you find ways to weave oxymorons into your own writing.

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Use Oxymoron Examples to Build Your Own Writing Skills

Oxymoron examples

If you want to make more engaging and interesting writing, you need to learn how to use figures of speech in your writing. Looking at what an oxymoron is and then studying some examples will help you liven up your own work.

What Is an Oxymoron?

The definition of oxymoron is a pair of words with opposite or conflicting meanings that join to create a new word or phrase, with a meaning that is not always the same as the original words. The word oxymoron comes from the Greek words oxys, which means sharp, and moros, which means dull. Thus, even the word itself is an oxymoron.

How Oxymorons Affect Writing

So why would you want to pair oppositional words to create a new word or phrase? What is the benefit of using oxymorons in your writing?

When you use an oxymoron, you benefit from:

  • Dramatic effect: An oxymoron, because of the opposite nature of the words, actually emphasizes the second word. 
  • Add a deeper meaning: Some complex ideas are best expressed with an oxymoron to make the complex thought easier to comprehend. For instance, saying something is bitter-sweet embraces the sad and happy feeling that can come with something nostalgic.
  • Create irony: Sometimes, oxymorons create irony by pairing contradictory terms into one phrase. 

Examples of Oxymoron in Everyday Speech

Oxymoron examples
Virtual reality: If you are doing something that is in reality, it can’t be virtual

Several oxymorons have become part of everyday speech. Even though these pairs of words have opposite meanings, they create an entirely new meaning when paired.

  • Deafening silence: Silence would not be able to take away hearing, but this pair of words means a very oppressive sense of quiet.
  • Old news: News means something new, but old news is actually no longer new.
  • Living dead: This phase, often referring to the zombie genre, is the ultimate oxymoron because if something is dead, it cannot be alive.
  • Open secret: Secrets are hidden, not open, making this a pair of contradictory words.
  • Jumbo shrimp: A shrimp is small, but the pairing of the word jumbo indicates a large version of this small food.
  • Original copy: If you copy something, it can’t be original, making this an oxymoron.
  • Only choice: If you have a choice, then there cannot be only one option.
  • Awfully good: If something is awful, how can it be good?
  • Unbiased opinion: An opinion has, at its heart, a bias.
  • Pretty ugly: This oxymoron emphasizes ugliness, but something cannot be “pretty” and “ugly” simultaneously.
  • Same difference: Differences cannot be the same. 
  • Act naturally: If you are acting, you are not behaving naturally.
  • Random order: Randomness and order cannot be the same thing.
  • Exact estimate: An estimate is a guess, not something that is exact.
  • Silent scream: A scream makes noise, so a silent scream is an oxymoron.
  • Friendly fire: Military intelligence may indicate this term if fire comes from an ally, but it’s still an oxymoron.
  • Freezer burn: When you think about the meaning of these two words, you can clearly see that it is an oxymoron. 
  • Small crowd: Is it a crowd or a small gathering of people? 
  • Student-teacher: This teacher-in-training’s title is an oxymoron. 
  • Civil War: War is never civil, making this type of war a classic oxymoron.
  • Crash landing: You either crash a plane or land it, but a crash landing is a mixture of both.
  • Virtual reality: If you are doing something that is in reality, it can’t be virtual.

Uses of Oxymoron in Literature

Literary devices are common throughout English literature. Some examples from famous works include these:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

In this classic work, Bronte uses oxymoron quite often to highlight the tensions between love and duty. In one chapter, St. John, Jane’s cousin, describes love as “delicious poison.” Even though he felt intoxicatingly drawn to Rosamond Oliver, he knew following that passion would damage him.

2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

In one of the most famous lines in the play, Romeo says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” This classic example of an oxymoron shows how pain can be pleasant when love is surrounding it. Later in the play, he also says, “Why, then, o brawling love, o loving hate! O anything, of nothing first create,” which has several oxymorons woven throughout for dramatic effect.

3. “Lancelot and Elaine” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

In this poem about the love between Lancelot and Guinevere, Tennyson uses oxymoron in this line:

“His honor rooted in dishonor stood, 

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”

Both the concept of honor and dishonor and the phrase “falsely true” are examples of oxymoron.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemmingway

This book covers the Spanish Civil War and the emotional pain that came during this time. In the following passage, Hemmingway uses “warm, scalding coolness” as an example of an oxymoron to describe the passion between two lovers who meet up during a very difficult time.

“She held herself tight to him, and her lips looked for his and then found them and were against them, and he felt her, fresh, new and smooth and young and lovely with the warm, scalding coolness and unbelievable to be there in the robe that was as familiar as his clothes, or his shoes, or his duty and then she said, frightenedly, “And now let us do quickly what it is we do so that the other is all gone.”

A Final Word on Oxymoron Examples

Oxymoron is a literary device found in many types of literature, including both novels and poems. It draws attention to the meaning of a phrase by creating a stark contrast. Studying examples of oxymorons will help you use them more effectively in your own writing.

Keep in mind that some phrases can be oxymorons based on the context. For example, business ethics is not necessarily an oxymoron, but it can become one in a culture or setting where businesses are known for their lack of ethics.

The next time you pick up a book to read, keep an eye out for oxymorons. You just might find that they are more common than you think!

FAQs About Oxymoron Examples

Is jumbo shrimp an oxymoron?

If you take the words at face value, jumbo shrimp is an oxymoron. Something cannot be a shrimp and be jumbo at the same time. 

What is the purpose of an oxymoron?

An oxymoron makes the reader think about what the writer is saying. By contrasting two opposite words, it makes the passage more insightful and thought-provoking.

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.