Despite the misleading name, oxymoron isn't an insult — it's actually a figure of speech that uses words that oppose each other (Think: act naturally).

An oxymoron can be recognized when it is cast as an adjective-noun pairing, such as “proud humility.” Or it can be used to make a point when someone says something that receives a “deafening silence.”

People use oxymorons for several reasons, such as to cause someone to think about their words or actions. Other times, they add a little drama for listeners or readers. They are created on purpose, bringing two opposing ideas together—the oddity of their pairing suggests the ideas actually fit well together.

Why Use Oxymorons?

A true oxymoron is created deliberately. The creator intends to produce a rhetorical effect, or they want to uncover a deeper meaning that shows a reader or listener a new point of view.

A good, well-chosen oxymoron is excellent at expressing contradiction. They show the push-pull between opposing emotions. Finally, they add a touch of humor to writing.

Examples of Oxymorons

Try to spice up your writing with a few of our favorite oxymorons:

  • Alone together
  • Amazingly awful
  • Act naturally
  • Clearly confused
  • Bittersweet
  • Dark light
  • Definitely maybe
  • Deafening silence
  • Farewell reception
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Growing smaller
  • Open secret
  • Only choice
  • Painfully beautiful
  • Original copy
  • Random order
  • Passive aggressive
  • Sweet sorrow
  • Small crowd
  • Walking dead
  • True myth
  • Weirdly normal

Some Famous Examples

Classic literature is also chock full of this figure of speech:

From Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

“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.”

From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine”

“The shackles of an old love straitened him,

His honour rooted in dishonour stood,

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”