What is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is defined as a combination of contradictory words. When asked, "What is an oxymoron," someone might say that "deafening silence" is an example, because "deafening" is usually used when speaking of loud noises, and "silence" means no noise is being made. What is an oxymoron that you know off the top of your head?

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When considering the oxymoron definition, remember that contradictions are the staple of a good oxymoron. It is a great creative writing technique to think of words with opposite meanings that can be fit together to make what sounds logical, and what you most likely hear people say on a daily basis, but which is seemingly illogical when truly thought through.

Some oxymoron examples that help define what an oxymoron is include the following:

1. Jumbo Shrimp - If jumbo means large and shrimp means small, the two contradictory words really shouldn't be used together. However, they are being used to describe a type of food in this case. If someone was talking about a short person, the only way this term would really be acceptable (though not in a kind way) would be if the person was not only short, but quite large in size.

2. Civil War - The Civil War was a war between the northern and southern states (the Union and the Confederacy). Yet, the definition of civil relies on courtesy and politeness. Therefore, how can a war where people are fighting and killing be considered civil in any regard?

3. Friendly Fire - When this term is used, it is in the respect that weapons are being fired but it is later found out that the people firing did not actually mean harm. They may not have realized that the people they were firing at were their comrades rather than their enemies. However, the term clearly makes you wonder why friends would fire on you. Or, if you want to take it one step further in terms of thinking outside the box, you could wonder why someone who you consider your friend would fire you from a job. How can firing of any sort be considered friendly?

4. Good Grief - Sounds like something Charlie Brown would say, doesn't it? How is grief a good thing? If someone is grieving, someone could have possibly died, or someone can be upset about how something played out. Grief is more often than not considered a sad, depressing emotion, while things that are good tend to make you happy and cheerful.


5. Living Dead - If you enjoy horror movies, you might say that zombies are most obviously the definition of the living dead. However, the term is still contradictory and clearly answers the question, "What is an oxymoron?" The two words most certainly go against one another in logic. If something is living, it cannot be dead, and vice versa. When someone thinks of the living dead, they may think of videos like Michael Jackson's Thriller which made use of zombie-like characters as back-up dancers.

6. Perfectly Awful/Awfully Good - When something is called awful, one usually considers that to mean that it is no good. In that case, how can it be perfect, or good for that matter? In cases like that, it is obviously being used as an adjective to describe how perfect or good something was, but it comes off as an oxymoron because of the conjoining of terms that are clearly at odds with each other.

There are countless other oxymorons that are fun to contemplate. Make a list of word opposites and try to stick them together to see how many oxymorons you can come up with on your own. What is an oxymoron, after all, if not a collaboration of terms that someone stuck together to create new meaning? Become one of the people who joins words and phrases to make new meanings and understandings. Ensure your own writing success with your own lists and creations. Your list may begin to look something like the following:

1. Hot vs. Cold - A cold sweat can be called an oxymoron, as most people feel that sweating entails heating up or perspiring from exhaustion.

2. Light vs. Dark - A night light may sound like an oxymoron when first heard, because the night is associated with darkness. In this case, though, the light is going to help make the night brighter so that someone will not be scared of the dark.

3. Wet vs. Dry -- Dry ice might be an oxymoron that can come from this. It can possibly be considered an oxymoron simply because ice is made of water, and water is most certainly wet when in liquid form. Therefore, the fact that it is dry makes the term contradictory.

See what other words, terms, and phrases you can come up with by making a list of your own. It is not only important, after all, to consider synonyms when writing, but antonyms as well. Understanding opposite meanings and considering how to combine contradictory terms will make your writing stand out all the more.


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