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See also: Oxymoron and oxymóron


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First attested in the 17th century, noun use of 5th century Latin oxymōrum (adj), neut. nom. form of oxymōrus (adj),[1] from Ancient Greek ὀξύμωρος (oxúmōros), compound of ὀξύς (oxús, sharp, keen, pointed)[2] (English oxy-, as in oxygen) + μωρός (mōrós, dull, stupid, foolish)[3] (English moron (stupid person)). Literally "sharp-dull", "keen-stupid", or "pointed-foolish"[4] – itself an oxymoron, hence autological; compare sophomore (literally wise fool), influenced by similar analysis. The compound form ὀξύμωρον (oxúmōron) is not found in the extant Ancient Greek sources.[5]


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ɒksɪˈmɔːɹɒn/
  • (US) enPR: äk-sē-môrʹ-än, äk-sĭ-môrʹ-än, IPA(key): /ˌɑksiˈmɔɹɑn/, /ɑksɪˈmɔɹɑn/
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oxymoron (plural oxymorons or oxymora)

Examples (rhetoric)

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (c. 1591–1595)
Parting is such sweet sorrow.

  1. (rhetoric) A figure of speech in which two words or phrases with opposing meanings are used together intentionally for effect.
    • 1835, L[arret] Langley, A Manual of the Figures of Rhetoric, [], Doncaster: Printed by C. White, Baxter-Gate, →OCLC, page 35:
      In Oxymoron jarring phrases join
      And terms opposed in harmony combine.
    • 1996, John Sinclair, “Culture and Trade: Some Theoretical and Practical Considerations”, in Emile G. McAnany, Kenton T. Wilkinson, editors, Mass Media and Free Trade: NAFTA and the Cultural Industries, University of Texas Press:
      For Theodor Adorno and his colleagues at the Frankfurt School who coined the term, "culture industry" was an oxymoron, intended to set up a critical contrast between the exploitative, repetitive mode of industrial mass production under capitalism and the associations of transformative power and aesthetico-moral transcendence that the concept of culture carried in the 1940s, when it still meant "high" culture.
  2. (loosely, sometimes proscribed) A contradiction in terms.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Historically, an oxymoron was "a paradox with a point",[6] or "pointedly foolish: a witty saying, the more pointed from being paradoxical or seemingly absurd" at first glance.[4] Its deliberate purpose was to underscore a point or to draw attention to a concealed point. The common vernacular use of oxymoron as simply a contradiction in terms is considered incorrect by some speakers and writers, and is perhaps best avoided in certain contexts.


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ oxymōrus”, in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879) A Latin Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  2. ^ ὀξύς”, in Liddell & Scott (1940) A Greek–English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  3. ^ μωρός”, in Liddell & Scott (1940) A Greek–English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  4. 4.0 4.1 ὀξύμωρος”, in Liddell & Scott (1940) A Greek–English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  5. ^ OED
  6. ^ Jebb, Sir Richard (1900). Sophocles: The Plays and Fragments, with critical notes, commentary, and translation in English prose. Part III: The Antigone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading[edit]




oxymoron m (plural oxymorons)

  1. oxymoron

Usage notes[edit]

In French, oxymore and oxymoron denote the same thing. However, each form has its own derived terms (oxymorique and oxymoriquement for oxymore, and oxymoronique and oxymoroniquement for oxymoron). When using one form, be sure to not mix it with the derivatives of the other.

Alternative forms[edit]