If you gathered a small crowd together, then it might be old news to some people to answer, “What is an oxymoron?” The concept is an open secret in the world of literature and film. Of course, you might hear that question with your only response being deafening silence. But once you understand oxymorons inside and out, you can incorporate them into your writing to create humorous, more sophisticated dialogue.

Who knows? Oxymorons tend to make awfully good movie titles as well.


Let’s examine the oxymoron definition

Oxymorons seem like they shouldn’t exist. After all, something like “jumbo shrimp” seems like it should contradict itself. How can shrimps be jumbo when they’re naturally… shrimpy? Turns out, some of the most well-known novels, plays, and movies of all time have utilized this literary devices. You no longer have to be in the dark about what's an oxymoron.


What is an oxymoron?

An oxymoron is any grouping of oppositional words to create a new, unique word or phrase. At first glance, oxymorons appear to be absurd due to this contrast. However, the juxtaposition of two opposing words can add irony, reveal a deeper meaning behind the text, or add onto the dramatic effect.

The word “oxymoron” is itself an oxymoron. The word is derived from two Greek words, namely “oxus” (sharp) and “moros” (dull). Some common oxymoron examples include “pretty ugly,” “only choice,” and “same difference.”

Oxymoron Examples in Movie Titles:

  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • Back to the Future
  • True Lies
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Urban Cowboy
  • Mr. Mom

This video from Oregon State University does an excellent job of breaking down the concept of contradictory words and phrases. 

What is an Oxymoron and What Do Oxymorons Do?

Oxymorons have been used for centuries by some of the greatest writers who ever lived. And if you’re looking to jazz up your own writing, then a succinct, clever oxymoron may be just what you need.


Common oxymoron examples

Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, you’ve probably heard plenty of oxymorons in your day-to-day life. One such oxymoronic phrase, “alone together,” grew in popularity when much of society went into quarantine in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, you probably saw similar PSAs to this one from the City of Cupertino.

Oxymoron Meaning and Examples  •  Alone Together

While “alone” and “together” normally don’t go together, the purpose of such messaging was to imply that even though everyone had to stay at home, you weren’t alone in making sacrifices. Everyone was expected to do their part to stay apart from each other so that in the near future, we could all get together once again to celebrate life. 

Other oxymoron examples you may come across in your personal and professional lives include:

  • Even odds
  • Freezer burn
  • Growing smaller
  • Idiot savant
  • Loyal opposition
  • Minor miracle
  • Seriously funny
  • Working vacation
  • Silent scream
  • Unbiased opinion

Many of these have become so commonplace, people don’t even stop to think about how they don’t technically make any sense together.


Oxymoron vs paradox

Oxymorons and paradoxes both involve contradictions. It’s what makes a paradox somewhat of an oxymoron synonym. But what is a paradox in relation to an oxymoron? Turns out, the difference all comes down to how their respective contradictions are expressed.

The best oxymorons place two contrasting words next to each other. On the other hand, paradoxes are longer statements that twist contradictions in addition to logic. 

Oxymoron and Paradox

The narrator describes the differences between the two concepts in the above videos. Some common paradox examples include:

  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • The greatest thing that can come from hate is love.
  • I am nobody.
  • What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.

To really turn your brain into knots, just think of this: “The last word in this sentence is meaningless.” On one hand, the last word in the sentence is literally “meaningless;” however, that word does, indeed, have a definition, It may not be an oxymoron, but it’s similar in concept to where it makes you stop and think for a minute. 


Oxymoron examples in books and music

Numerous authors and playwrights have incorporated oxymorons into their works over the centuries. The main function of this is to give the reader pause. The reader should be taken aback and examine the combination of words put together to decipher the true meaning. 

One of the most famous oxymoron examples in literature comes from William Shakespeare. A famous oxymoron in Romeo and Juliet continues to puzzle high school students to this day. You can read and adapt to your own means via StudioBinder’s screenwriting software

Read Romeo and Juliet PDF  •  Oxymoron Definition

This passage contains a list of oxymorons strung together. “Loving hate,” “heavy lightness,” and “cold fire” are all contradictory phrases. So why does Shakespeare do this? Anyone who has ever been madly, hopelessly in love could probably tell you. 

The idea of love is filled with dualities. You may fawn over the person you adore one second and abhor something else they do the next. People go through numerous extremes when they’re in love. And these oxymorons illustrate that fact. 

Oxymorons can also aid in the satire of a piece of work. Read this passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Read Animal Farm PDF  •  What is an Oxymoron and Give Examples

The idea of one class being “more equal” than another is inherently hypocritical. This new commandment laid out by Napoleon the pig points out such hypocrisies that came about after the Russian Revolution. If one class of people is “more equal” than another, then true equality doesn’t exist. 

Other oxymoron examples in literature include the following passages. 

  • “Down the close darkening lanes they sang their way to the siding-shed, And lined the train with faces grimly gay.” Wilfred Owen, “The Send-Off”
  • “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
  • “His honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

Once you define oxymoron in literature, you can find it pretty much everywhere, including popular music. Singer John Legend takes a page out of Shakespeare’s book and uses oxymorons to describe the love of his life in the song “All of Me.”

Define Oxymoron Using John Legend Lyrics

Phrases like “perfectly imperfect” and “my end and my beginning” show the depths of Legend’s love. His lover’s contradictions are what attracted him to her in the first place. And it’s her flaws that make her beautiful.


What is an oxymoron in film?

Films use oxymorons in a similar way to classic literature. You can find plenty of examples in movie dialogue and songs, such as “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King

Oxymoron Meaning  •  The Lion King

We’ve already examined The Lion King script PDF in-depth via StudioBinder’s scriptwriting software, but let’s take a look at this particular sequence as it’s written in the screenplay. 

Oxymoron What Is  •  The Lion King

The song contains the phrase, “I’m brushing up on looking down.” Simba’s singing about his excitement in learning how to be king even though it sounds like it will mostly consist of looking down on other animals as they serve him. The line takes on a different meaning later in the film when Simba runs away from his responsibilities. 

And while not technically oxymorons, we see other contradictions through this song. At one section, Simba brags about having a mighty mane, to which Zazu responds, “Thus far a rather uninspiring thing.” In this instance, the discrepancy between what Simba wants to become and the reality he presently faces is played for humor

But one part of the film where you’re more likely to see an oxymoron than anywhere else is in the title. 

What is Oxymoron - Teeming with Title - StudioBinder

Using Oxymoron in a Sentence

When the title of a film is an oxymoron, it often signifies there’s some contradiction within the plot that needs to be resolved. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that some of the best zombie movies ever have oxymorons as their titles, such as Night of the Living Dead and The Dead Don’t Die. The contradiction present within monsters that are both dead and alive makes for a unique contrast the characters have to contend with. 

But you don’t need zombies to use oxymorons. If you want to add dramatic effect to your script and let readers know they’re in for a twisted ride filled with deception, then why not name your movie True Lies

Oxymorons also create more playful tones. When you have a seriously funny script about a young girl who needs to pose as a boy, the title She’s the Man just makes sense. 


What is tautology?

Oxymorons function as a literary device to let you have fun with language. But have you ever stopped to consider the opposite of oxymoron? While you may think one doesn’t exist, it does. And it’s known as tautology. While oxymorons consist of contradictory words, tautology refers to words in succession that mean the same thing. Let’s take a look at this classic piece of dialogue from one of the preeminent TV series of our times - SpongeBob SquarePants. 

Tautology Example  •  SpongeBob SquarePants

Before an onslaught of anchovies show up at the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs says the iconic line, “A smelly smells that smells… smelly.” In this instance and scenes similar to it, the purpose is to elicit a chuckle out of the audience out of the fact the character can’t think of another word for “smell.”

While you could refer to this as “redundancy” or “repetition,” you can really impress your English teacher by throwing the word “tautology” out there when referring to books and films. 


What’s the purpose of oxymorons?

At the end of the day, oxymorons are good to learn because they demonstrate how fluid language can be. We tend to have these strict ideas of how people should talk, and oxymorons demonstrate how you can derive a deeper meaning by playing with words and seeing how they fit together in unique ways. 

Consider the words of late Congressman John Lewis, who spoke these words: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.” Again, the term “good trouble” is an oxymoron because how could any “trouble” be “good?” 

Therein lies the significance. Congressman Lewis fought for civil rights his entire life. He participated in marches and protests, sometimes suffering severe injuries in the pursuit of equality. He understood systemic racism in the United States resulted in laws that were not always just. He may have been arrested, gotten in “trouble,” but it was always in service of doing what was “good” for the betterment of society. 

He understood that just because something was lawful didn’t always mean it was moral, and his journey was chronicled in the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble.

Oxymoron Examples in Movies  •  Good Trouble

There are all kinds of ways to incorporate oxymorons into your writing. Whether it’s to reveal a deeper meaning or to have fun with the English language, at the end of the day, oxymorons just stand out. They force the reader or viewer to sit up straight, pay attention, and give in to your controlled chaos. 


Explore more literary devices

The oxymoron is just one of many literary devices and types of figurative language, including euphemism, paradox, and connotation. If you're a writer and want to develop your craft fully, do yourself a favor and continue this exploration. The next article on literary devices is a gateway to many of these tools that help add substance and style to any type of written work.

Up Next: Literary Devices Index →
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