What is an Oxymoron? Definition, Examples of Oxymoron in Literature

Oxymoron definition: An oxymoron is a type of figurative language that uses apparently contradictory terms.

What is an Oxymoron?

What is oxymoron? An oxymoron is a figure of speech. Therefore, the language itself is not literal, but figurative.

An oxymoron is a phrase that seems to use contradictory terms to express a particular thought or sentiment.


Example of Oxymoron:

  • jumbo shrimp

what is a oxymoron meaningBy definition, the word “shrimp” refers to something very small. To describe a shrimp as “jumbo” seems contradictory. How can something so small be called “jumbo?” This is an oxymoron.

Oxymoron vs. Paradox

What does oxymoron mean? An oxymoron is a figure of speech where two terms seem contradictory.

A paradox is a term that presents a situation where two events seem unlikely to coexist.

To separate the two, consider that a paradox is an event or a situation and an oxymoron is a figure of speech.

Ocymoron-and-oxymoran-and oxi moron and oxymorom and oxymorn and oxymoraHere’s an example of paradox from George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

  • “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This is a paradox because, as a situation, these two events are contradictory. Furthermore, a paradox is generally a sentence or multiple sentences in length.

An oxymoron is paradoxical in nature but is a figure of speech rather than a situation or event. An oxymoron is generally only two terms in length.

The Function of an Oxymoron

what is the definition of oxymoron exampleAn oxymoron presents two seemingly contrasting terms together.

Often, an oxymoron is used to express a particular sentiment that cannot be otherwise understood.

For example, the term “bittersweet” is an oxymoron. “Bitter” and “sweet” are contradictory. However, this term expresses a feeling that has both positive and negative aspects.

  • If the sequel dwells on our bittersweet relationship with time, Hathaway, who is nursing her 8-week-old son Jonathan (with husband Adam Shulman), is definitely on her baby’s clock. –USA Today

Writers will use an oxymoron when they are trying to achieve a particular effect that is best understood through contradictions. Oftentimes, emotions are best expressed this way.

Oxymoron Examples in Literature

What is oxymoron in literature? In the opening act of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare writes lines for Romeo overflowing with oxymoron.

Definition Oxy moron literary definitionOxymoron in Romeo and Juliet:

“Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,

O anything of nothing first created!

O heavy lightness, serious vanity,

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.”

The use of oxymoron here is to emphasize Romeo’s emotions. He is frustrated with love and finds it best to express himself through opposites.

Again, oxymoron communicates emotions that are otherwise difficult to explain.

With the oxymoron use, the audience can feel and understand the gravity of Romeo’s difficulties. And, what is more difficult than expressing and defining love? The oxymoron as a literary tool and figure of speech work effectively here.

Summary: What is an Oxymoron?

Define oxymoron: the definition of oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses contradictory terms.

These terms express a particular sentiment that is best communicated through opposites.

Examples of Oxymoron:

  • Great Depression
  • Living dead
  • Pain for pleasure
  • Oddly normal