Oxymorons (or oxymora) are expressions which contain apparently contradictory words. Many of them are common expressions which we all say without even thinking about how silly the combination of words sounds. The following are a few good examples of entertaining oxymorons.
Shakespeare loved a good oxymoron, the rascal that he was. Romeo and Juliet is filled with them and "sweet sorrow" is probably the most memorable one. Parting is, indeed, such sweet sorrow and the Bard knew well what he was up to when he combined two words, which shouldn’t really go together. There are lots more oxymorons in the play and it is a literary device used by other famous writers too. Alexander Pope, for example, came up with the classic “damn with faint praise”, which is so commonly used these days that most people probably don’t even recognise it as an oxymoron.
My nephew just reminded me of another one, as he is currently running about pretending to kill zombies in my living room. As a kid I always got really confused by the concept of zombies and the living dead. How can they be both alive and dead at the same time? Do they die twice? How did they learn to dance like that on Thriller? It makes no sense.
This is a great oxymoron because it really does describe certain situations perfectly. For example, if you have ever been in a work meeting and the boss asked for a volunteer for a difficult task the response probably was a deafening silence.
What does this even mean? It is a fine example of an oxymoron which we have all heard so often over the years that we don’t even think of it as being comprised of two separate and contradictory words.
This is one of those phrases which always irritates me when I hear it said about a song or a film. There is no such thing as an instant classic and even if there was it wouldn’t be by Eminem or Lady blooming Gaga.
So, it’s an open secret, is it? It’s not really a secret at all then, is it? It’s more of a, well, a thing. A thing that everyone knows about, you could say, which is kind of the opposite of a secret when you think about it.
I am not going to type out that whole phrase about known knowns and known unknowns, because it will only make my head hurt and cause you to turn off your computer and go and lie down for a bit. Instead, I will just admit that I have used it on one or two occasions to make a point. It is an example of a seemingly pointless oxymoron conveying a very specific message which we all seem to grasp right away.
Do you have a favourite oxymoron that we haven’t covered? Let us know below!