What is an Oxymoron?

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Simply put, there are combinations of words that are contradictory to each other. To explain it more technically, Oxymoron is a figure of speech generally combining two terms which usually contradict each other. For example “vegetarian meatball” doesn’t make sense if you analyze it part by part but is used frequently for a number of dishes.

Uses of Oxymorons – In a literal sense they generally accentuate some meaning.  For Example – “Bigger half”. We know that halves are supposed to be exactly equal. Therefore when we say that one half is bigger than the other – it is an oxymoron as it implies that they cannot be halves. It can at best hint at “the bigger of what was intended in two equal pieces.”

Most oxymorons however provide a hilarious twist to the phrase when examined closely. They also add a particular “flavor” to a phrase making it forceful as well as attractive, besides accentuating an obvious advantage of the subject under discussion.

I am sure the following oxymoron’s would tickle you – but are used frequently.

“Bittersweet”

“Awfully pretty”

“Calculated risk.”

“Wisest fool”.

“Fairly accurate”

“Same difference”

“Exact estimate”

“Mildly psychotic?”

“Seriously funny”

“Unbiased opinion”

“Clearly misunderstood”

And in a slightly warped manner, these two take the cake –

“Happily married”.

“Marital bliss.”

Oxymorons can make language interesting as well as humorous, depending upon how we look at them. We find countless places where these phrases are used without actually realizing it. There is nothing wrong in using it, par se’ but it should be done deliberately in case one wants to get the right effect at the right time.

The oxymoron is used in prose with an intention of making some point, or calling attention towards a contradiction in the subject itself. For example, St. Augustine uses an oxymoron in order to illustrate the doctrine of the original sin: i.e. Felix culpa (or “Oh, the most fortunate disgrace”). Similarly when Nicholas challenged the rigidity associated with Scholasticism, he did not hesitate in using it strongly by summarizing it as a “learned ignorance”, which also forms  the title of the book he wrote- De docta ignorant. Most certainly, this is an example of a masterful use of oxymorons.

Similarly, Our speech is replete with such picturesque expressions which can be described as the “genuine imitations” of some sensible speech.

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