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M. C. Escher's "Waterfall": a visual paradox


A figure of speech in which a statement appears to contradict itself. Adjective: paradoxical.

See also:


From the Greek, "incredible, contrary to opinion or expectation"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot."
    (Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)

  • "If you wish to preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness."
    (Alexander Smith, "On the Writing of Essays." Dreamthorp, 1854)

  • "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
    (Mother Teresa)

  • "War is peace."
    "Freedom is slavery."
    "Ignorance is strength."
    (George Orwell, 1984)

  • The Paradox of Catch-22
    "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."
    (Joseph Heller, Catch-22, 1961)

  • "Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America--that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement."
    (Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again, 1940)

  • "Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called 'dead tongues' holds more currency than this morning's newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long."
    (Tom Hanks as Professor G.H. Dorr in The Ladykillers, 2004)

  • Kahlil Gibran's Paradoxes
    "At times [in The Prophet by Khalil Gibran], Almustafa’s vagueness is such that you can’t figure out what he means. If you look closely, though, you will see that much of the time he is saying something specific; namely, that everything is everything else. Freedom is slavery; waking is dreaming; belief is doubt; joy is pain; death is life. So, whatever you’re doing, you needn’t worry, because you’re also doing the opposite. Such paradoxes . . . now became his favorite literary device. They appeal not only by their seeming correction of conventional wisdom but also by their hypnotic power, their negation of rational processes."
    (Joan Acocella, "Prophet Motive." The New Yorker, Jan. 7, 2008)

  • "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."
    (C.S. Lewis to his godchild, Lucy Barfield, to whom he dedicated The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

  • Love's Paradox
    "You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox consists of the fact that, when we fall in love, we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand, we ask our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted upon us. So that love contains in it the contradiction: the attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past."
    (Martin Bergmann as Professor Levy in Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989)

  • "Originally a paradox was merely a view which contradicted accepted opinion. By round about the middle of the 16th c. the word had acquired the commonly accepted meaning it now has: an apparently self-contradictory (even absurd) statement which, on closer inspection, is found to contain a truth reconciling the conflicting opposites. . . .

    "Some critical theory goes so far as to suggest that the language of poetry is the language of paradox."
    (J.A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms, 3rd ed. Blackwell, 1991)

  • "Je ne parle pas Français."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)

  • Paradox as an Argumentative Strategy
    "Useful as instruments of instruction because of the wonder or surprise they engender, paradoxes also work to undermine the arguments of one's opponents. Among the ways to accomplish this, Aristotle (Rhetoric 2.23.16) recommends in his manual for the rhetorician exposing the disjunction between an opponent's public and private views on such topics as justice--a recommendation that Aristotle would have seen put into practice in the debates between Socrates and his various opponents in the Republic."
    (Kathy Eden, "Plato's Rhetoric of Education." A Companion to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism, ed. by Walter Jost and Wendy Olmsted. Blackwell, 2004)
Pronunciation: PAR-a-dox
Also Known As: paradoxa (Greek)
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