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Encyclopedia > Oxymoron
Look up oxymoron in
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An oxymoron (plural oxymorons or, more rarely, oxymora) is a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. Oxymoron is a loanword from Greek oxy ("sharp" or "pointed") and moros ("dull"). Thus the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron. Image File history File links Broom_icon. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Wiktionary (a portmanteau of wiki and dictionary) is a multilingual, Web-based project to create a free content dictionary, available in over 151 languages. ... A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetoric, or locution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. ... Broadly speaking, a contradiction is an incompatibility between two or more statements, ideas, or actions. ... A loanword (or loan word) is a word directly taken into one language from another with little or no translation. ...

Oxymorons are a proper subset of the expressions called contradictions in terms. What distinguishes oxymorons from other paradoxes and contradictions is that they are used intentionally, for rhetorical effect, and the contradiction is only apparent, as the combination of terms provides a novel expression of some concept, such as "cruel to be kind". Superset redirects here. ...

The most common form of oxymoron involves an adjective-noun combination. For example, the following line from Tennyson's Idylls of the King contains two oxymorons: In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun (called the adjectives subject), giving more information about what the noun or pronoun refers to. ... In linguistics, a noun or noun substantive is a lexical category which is defined in terms of how its members combine with other grammatical kinds of expressions. ... Tennyson may refer to: A person: Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, poet (the best-known Tennyson) Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson, Governor of South Australia, and Governor-General of Australia, elder son of the poet Alfred Tennyson Hallam Tennyson, great grandson of the poet Alfred Tennyson Emily Tennyson, wife of... The Idylls of the King (1856 - 1885) are a cycle of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that express the legend of King Arthur in terms of the psychology and concerns of nineteenth-century England. ...

"And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true"

Oxymorons can also be wooden irons in that they are in violation of the Principle of contradiction which asserts that nothing can be thought if it contains contradictory characteristics, predicates, attributes, or qualities.[citation needed] Wooden Iron is a polemical term often used in philosophic rhetoric to describe the impossibility of an opposing argument. ... The Principle of contradiction (principium contradictionis in Latin) is, in logic, the term applied to the second of the three primary laws of thought. ...


Types of Oxymoron

Richard Lederer assembled a taxonomy of oxymorons in an article in Word Ways in 1990[1], running from single-word oxymorons such as "pianoforte" (literally, "soft-loud") through "doublespeak oxymora" (deliberately intended to confuse) and "opinion oxymora" (editorial opinions designed to provoke a laugh). In general, oxymorons can be divided into expression that were deliberately crafted to be contradictory, such as the Tennyson quote above, and those phrases that inadvertently or incidentally contain a contradiction (often as a result of a punning use of one or both words). Richard Lederer at 2006 Mensa World Gathering Richard Lederer (born 1938) is an American author and teacher best known for his books on word play and the English language, and his use of oxymorons. ... The piano Piano is a common abbreviation for pianoforte, a large musical instrument with a keyboard (see keyboard instrument). ... For other uses, see Pun (disambiguation). ...

Deliberate Oxymorons

Often a writer will use an oxymoron in order to deliberately call attention to a contradiction. Richard Feynman, for example, in his lectures on physics, spends a chapter discussing "dry water" [1]. Clearly, he could have used a different phrase, such as perhaps "hydrodynamics of fluids in the limiting case of viscosity approaching zero," but the deliberate contradiction of the phrase "dry water" both adds humor to his otherwise-dry analysis, and also emphasizes the fact that the substance he is discussing is theoretical and not real. This article is about the physicist. ... Cover of the book on quantum mechanics The Feynman Lectures on Physics, by Richard Feynman, Robert Leighton, and Matthew Sands is perhaps Feynmans most accessible technical work, and is considered a classic introduction to modern physics, including lectures on mathematics, electromagnetism, Newtonian physics, quantum physics, and even the relation...

Some examples of deliberate oxymorons include:

Oxymorons are most tellingly employed in injecting a sense of ironic, ostensibly unintended, humor. The effect is to confront the reader or the listener with a sense of ludicrousness so as to render the whole sentence and the idea absurd and funny. It should be remembered that this is a purely subjective line of thinking and presupposes that the reader or listener is already familiar with the intended humor. Examples of such thought-provoking oxymorons include: Accidentally on Purpose is a Rock album by Deep Purple member Ian Gillan & Roger Glover, released in 1988. ... Little Big Man is a 1970 film directed by Arthur Penn and based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger. ... Look up Humour in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

  • Orphans of the Living - children in the foster-parent system.
  • "Poet in residence in absentia" - a title granted to a poet, at his own request, by a university.

Popular oxymorons

In popular usage, the term oxymoron is sometimes used more loosely, in the sense of a simple contradiction in terms. Often, it is then applied to expressions which, unlike real oxymorons, are used in full earnest and without any sense of paradox by many speakers in everyday language. Comedian George Carlin brought many of these to popular attention in his album "Toledo Window Box" and in his live comedy routines. Look up paradox in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... George Denis Patrick Carlin[15] (born May 12, 1937) is a Grammy-winning American stand-up comedian, actor, and author. ...

  • "With all deliberate speed" (i.e. "go quickly slowly")
  • Pretty ugly
  • Alone together
  • Liberal conservative
  • Same difference
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Random Order
  • civil war

Many collected lists of oxymorons are available, for example, at oxymoronlist.com [2] and oxymorons.info [3]. Superfamilies Alpheoidea Atyoidea Bresilioidea Campylonotoidea Crangonoidea Galatheacaridoidea Nematocarcinoidea Oplophoroidea Palaemonoidea Pandaloidea Pasiphaeoidea Procaridoidea Processoidea Psalidopodoidea Stylodactyloidea True shrimp are swimming, decapod crustaceans classified in the infraorder Caridea, found widely around the world in both fresh and salt water. ... For other uses, see War (disambiguation). ...

Very often the labeling of an expression as a perceived oxymoron is made on the basis of substituting an alternative, non-intended meaning for the meaning normally intended in the context of the expression in question. For instance, in the expression Civil war, the term civil is normally intended to mean "between citizens of the same state". In this sense, the expression is neither paradox nor self-contradictory. However, if civil is construed as 'non-military' or 'reasonable and polite', the expression is a contradiction in terms (as per satirist Richard Armour in It All Started with Columbus, who said the American Civil War was fought politely). Such designations of alleged oxymorons are often made with a humorous purpose. Alternatively, an oxymoron may occur when a word or phrase changes meaning. Few people today pay attention to the inherent contradiction in eating with "plastic silverwear" or drinking from "a plastic glass," because the word "silverware" has come to mean eating utensils of any composition, and "glass" is commonly used to refer to any cup from which one can drink. This article is about the definition of the specific type of war. ... why can u change this im serious. ... why can u change this im serious. ... This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ...

Oxymoron use as Opinion

Calling such an expression an oxymoron is sometimes done in order to disparage its use, by drawing attention to a perceived inherent contradiction and thus claiming it to be nonsensical. Often this kind of argument is used in domains of political or ideological dispute, or in order to criticize a perceived nonsensical use of technical terms by lay people who fail to understand their true meanings. Examples of expressions that are used without a sense of paradox by some but have been claimed to be "oxymorons" in this sense by critics include:

A more subtle rhetorical manoeuvre in designating an expression XY as an "oxymoron", often used for either humorous or polemical purposes, is to pick out a perceived or alleged property of objects of type Y, re-construe that property as if it were a defining criterion of Y, and then demonstrate that it is contradicted by X. For instance, to claim "honest politician" is an oxymoron implies politicians are inherently dishonest.

Both the above strategies can be seen combined in an example like military intelligence, one of the many humorous oxymorons popularized by George Carlin; it carries an implies a political judgment, that the military by its nature cannot be intelligent. The term "intelligence" is re-construed as meaning not "information gathering" but "intellectual power." The Thrash Metal band Megadeth commented on the phrase in their highly acclaimed song, Hangar 18: "Military Intelligence, two words combined that can't make sense". Military intelligence (abbreviated MI, int. ... Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music, one of the extreme metal subgenres that is characterised by high speed riffing and aggression. ... Megadeth is an American heavy metal band led by founder, frontman, guitarist, and songwriter Dave Mustaine. ... Hangar 18 may refer to a hangar at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base which allegedly houses evidence from the Roswell UFO incident. ...

For instance, some oxymorons used in this manner to disparage or arouse humor include:

Christian Science is a religious teaching regarding the efficacy of spiritual healing according to the interpretation of the Bible by Mary Baker Eddy, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (first published in 1875). ... Microsoft Works is an office suite (Home Productivity Suite) available from the Microsoft Corporation. ...

Use in drama

Oxymorons are used in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' when Romeo is describing to Benvolio how much he loves Rosaline: Shakespeare redirects here. ... For other uses, see Romeo and Juliet (disambiguation). ...

Romeo. Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything of nothing first create,
A heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead...

Juliet also uses oxymorons after having found out about her cousins death at the hands of Romeo she says:

O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical'
Dove-feathered raven,wolfish ravening lamb'
A damned saint, an honourable villain

See also

Approximate X-Bar representation of Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. ... Broadly speaking, a contradiction is an incompatibility between two or more statements, ideas, or actions. ... Demagogy is generally a method of convincing a listener by appealing to the persons common sense and leaps of logic. ... A figure of speech, sometimes termed a rhetoric, or locution, is a word or phrase that departs from straightforward, literal language. ... Consistency has three technical meanings: In mathematics and logic, as well as in theoretical physics, it refers to the proposition that a formal theory or a physical theory contains no contradictions. ... Look up juxtaposition in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The laws of thought are fundamental logical rules, with a long tradition in the history of philosophy, which collectively prescribe how a rational mind must think. ... Logic (from Classical Greek λόγος logos; meaning word, thought, idea, argument, account, reason, or principle) is the study of the principles and criteria of valid inference and demonstration. ... Look up paradox in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A performative contradiction is a statement that, if true, contradicts itself, such as all statements must be false or all truth is relative. ... // Pleonasm is the use of more words (or even word-parts) than necessary to express an idea clearly. ... The Principle of contradiction (principium contradictionis in Latin) is, in logic, the term applied to the second of the three primary laws of thought. ... Rhetoric (from Greek , rhêtôr, orator, teacher) is generally understood to be the art or technique of persuasion through the use of oral, visual, or written language; however, this definition of rhetoric has expanded greatly since rhetoric emerged as a field of study in universities. ... Self-refuting ideas are ideas or statements whose falsehood is a direct logical consequence of holding that they are true. ... Sideroxylon is a noun that signifies and exemplifies a logical inconsistency between a noun and its modifying adjective. ... Wooden Iron is a polemical term often used in philosophic rhetoric to describe the impossibility of an opposing argument. ...


  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 

  Results from FactBites:
Urban Dictionary: oxymoron (257 words)
A common misconception is that any set of contradicting words placed together makes an oxymoron; but a phrase or sentence is truly not an oxymoron unless it actually DOES make sense, even if it might not seem to.
Sticking two random opposites together is not an oxymoron.
Platinum-selling Benzino album/honest politicians are examples of oxymorons.
Oxymoron - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (526 words)
Oxymoron is a Greek term derived from oxy ("sharp") and moros ("dull" or "dumb"), which means the word is an oxymoron.
Oxymorons are a proper subset of the expressions called contradiction in terms.
Sometimes, the labelling of an otherwise non-paradox expression as a perceived oxymoron is made on the basis of substituting an alternative, non-intended meaning for the meaning normally intended in the context of the expression in question.
  More results at FactBites »



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