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100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons

Compressed Paradoxes Found Missing


100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons

From William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo's oxymoronic description of the experience of being in love

The rhetorical term oxymoron, made up of two Greek words meaning "sharp" and "dull," is itself oxymoronic.

As you probably remember from school, an oxymoron is a compressed paradox: a figure of speech in which seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side. British writer Thomas Gibbons characterized the figure as "sense in the masquerade of folly."

The oxymoron has also been called "the show-off" figure, one that gives voice to life's inherent conflicts and incongruities.

"The true beauty of oxymorons," says Richard Watson Todd, "is that, unless we sit back and really think, we happily accept them as normal English." Todd illustrates his point in the following passage:

It was an open secret that the company had used a paid volunteer to test the plastic glasses. Although they were made using liquid gas technology and were an original copy that looked almost exactly like a more expensive brand, the volunteer thought that they were pretty ugly and that it would be simply impossible for the general public to accept them. On hearing this feedback, the company board was clearly confused and there was a deafening silence. This was a minor crisis and the only choice was to drop the product line.
(Much Ado About English. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2006)
But then all of that may be old news to you.

Like other kinds of figurative language, oxymorons (or oxymora) are often found in literature. However, as shown by this list of 100 awfully good examples, oxymorons are also part of our everyday speech.

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  1. "absent presence"
    (Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney)
  2. alone together
  3. awful good
  4. "beggarly riches"
    (Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne)
  5. bitter sweet
  6. "brisk vacancy"
    ("Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" by John Ashbery)
  7. cheerful pessimist
  8. civil war
  9. clearly misunderstood
  10. "comfortable misery"
    (One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz)

  11. conspicuous absence
  12. cool passion
  13. crash landing
  14. cruel kindness
  15. "darkness visible"
    (Paradise Lost by John Milton)
  16. deafening silence
  17. deceptively honest
  18. definite maybe
  19. deliberate speed
  20. devout atheist

  21. dull roar
  22. eloquent silence
  23. even odds
  24. exact estimate
  25. extinct life
  26. "falsely true"
    (Lancelot and Elaine by Lord Tennyson)
  27. festive tranquility
  28. found missing
  29. freezer burn
  30. friendly takeover

  31. genuine imitation
  32. good grief
  33. growing smaller
  34. guest host
  35. historical present
  36. humane slaughter
  37. icy hot
  38. idiot savant
  39. ill health
  40. impossible solution

  41. intense apathy
  42. joyful sadness
  43. jumbo shrimp
  44. larger half
  45. "lascivious grace"
    (Sonnet 40 by William Shakespeare)
  46. lead balloon
  47. "liquid marble"
    (Poetaster by Ben Jonson)
  48. living dead
  49. living end
  50. living sacrifices

  51. loosely sealed
  52. loud whisper
  53. loyal opposition
  54. magic realism
  55. "melancholy merriment"
    (Don Juan by Lord Byron)
  56. militant pacifist
  57. minor miracle
  58. negative growth
  59. negative income
  60. old news

  61. one-man band
  62. only choice
  63. openly deceptive
  64. open secret
  65. original copy
  66. overbearingly modest
  67. paper tablecloth
  68. paper towel
  69. peaceful conquest
  70. plastic glasses

  71. plastic silverware
  72. poor health
  73. pretty ugly
  74. properly ridiculous
  75. random order
  76. recorded live
  77. resident alien
  78. sad smile
  79. same difference
  80. "scalding coolness"
    (For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway)

  81. seriously funny
  82. shrewd dumbness
  83. silent scream
  84. small crowd
  85. soft rock
  86. "The Sound of Silence"
    (song by Paul Simon)
  87. static flow
  88. steel wool
  89. student teacher
  90. "sweet sorrow"
    (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

  91. terribly good
  92. theoretical experience
  93. "transparent night"
    ("When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d" by Walt Whitman)
  94. true fiction
  95. True Lies
    (movie directed by James Cameron)
  96. unbiased opinion
  97. unconscious awareness
  98. upward fall
  99. wise fool
  100. working vacation

For extensive examples of other figures of speech, visit the following pages:

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  4. Rhetoric and Style
  5. 100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons

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