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Oxymoron: Definition & Examples

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

Definition of Oxymoron

The term oxymoron derives from the Greek word oxymoros which means pointedly foolish. It is a figure of speech wherein opposite words or ideas are intentionally put together to achieve special effects. The meaning of the words combined together is sharply opposite to each other. For example, wise fool, honest thief, cold fire, sick health, clearly confused, pretty ugly, living dead, dark light, sad joy, sweet agony, seriously funny and silent screams are oxymoronic expressions.

Example # 1

There are many splendid examples of oxymoron in English literature, especially in poetry. For example, in Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heavens, the expressions, traitorous trueness and loyal deceit, are examples of oxymoron.

"I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness and their loyal deceit."

—Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heavens

Example # 2

Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet, I Find no Peace, contains excellent examples of oxymoron. The whole structure of these lines is based on oxymoron. In the first line, the poet says that he finds no peace, but in that very line, he goes against his statement and says that the war is over. He means that there is peace. That’s why; it is an example of oxymoron. In the second line, the words fear and hope and burn and breeze are oxymoronic expressions. In the third line, the poet says the he flies above the winds, but suddenly he rejects his previous statement and says he cannot fly now. Similarly, in the last line, the poet tells us that he has nothing, but immediately he asserts that he has got everything. Thus, it’s an excellent example of oxymoron in poetry.

"I find no peace, and all my war is done;
I fear and hope, I burn and freeze like ice;
I flee above the wind, yet can I not arise;
And nought I have and all the world I season."

— Sir Thomas Wyatt, I Find no Peace

Example # 3

Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, offers an excellent example of oxymoron. The loving hate, heavy lightness, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health and still-waking sleep are oxymoronic expressions.

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"Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything! Of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!"

— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Example # 4

In Pope’s poem, An Essay on Man, darkly wise and rudely great are oxymoronic expressions.

"KNOW then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:"

— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

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© 2015 Muhammad Rafiq


Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on October 24, 2015:

Yes. It can. Thanks for the comments.

Jinx Shadylane from Cincinnati Ohio on October 24, 2015:

Isn't the art of English interpretation and how each words meaning can blend together creating new definitions like Oxymoron.

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