If you gathered a small crowd together, then it might be old news to some people to answer, “What is an oxymoron?” If you caught those oxymoron examples, you’ve got a head start. 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.


First, let’s define oxymoron

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 most confusing of essential 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:

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

This video from Oregon State University does an excellent job of breaking down the concept of contradictory words and phrases. In other words, they explain, "What is an oxymoron" in simple and comprehensible terms.

What is an Oxymoron and What Does Oxymoron Mean?

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 contradictory phrase may be just what you need.


Oxymoron vs paradox

Oxymorons vs paradox is a tricky differentiation — both involve inherent 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 vs 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.


Oxymoron examples in literature

Numerous authors and playwrights have incorporated oxymoron examples in literature 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. Follow the image link to download a complete PDF of Shakespeare's tale of doomed love.

What is an Oxymoron in Romeo and Juliet?  •  Read Romeo and Juliet PDF

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 oxymoron examples illustrate that fact.

These contradictions can also serve a satirical purpose. Read this passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Follow the image link to download a complete PDF of Orwell's staggeringly good literary satire. You'll find this particular oxymoron example on page 40.

Whats an Oxymoron in Animal Farm?  •  Read Animal Farm PDF

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.” — Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
  • “His honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

But it isn’t just authors and poets from days of old who can so effortlessly put an oxymoron in a sentence. Singer John Legend takes a page out of Shakespeare’s book and use oxymoron examples to describe the love of his life in the song “All of Me.”

Some of the best oxymorons in poetry can be ideal song 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. 

Cinematic Oxymoron Examples

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. Take another look at this scene and see if you can spot how Simba helps us define oxymoron.

Whats an Oxymoron in 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. This particular oxymoron meaning changes later in the film when Simba runs away from his responsibilities.

He becomes lazy and doesn’t brush up on anything. And he certainly doesn’t look down on anyone. You can examine Simba’s character arc in full detail by downloading the The Lion King script PDF.

Dialogue and song lyrics are just the beginning of oxymoron examples in film. Another place you’re more likely to see an oxymoron is in the title.

What is Oxymoron - Teeming with Title - StudioBinder

Using Oxymoron in a Sentence or in a Title

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 contradictory phrases. If you want to let readers know they’re in for a twisted ride filled with deception, 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.

Oxymoron Definition Reversed

What is the opposite of oxymoron?

This literary device lets 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. Just look at the opening sequence from Kung Fu Panda.

Kung Fu Panda  •  The Legendary Warrior

Variations of the word “legend” are used in rapid succession of each other. While you could also refer to this as “repetition” or “redundancy,” you can really impress your English teacher by throwing the word “tautology” out there when referring to books and films.

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.


How writers can use paradoxes

If you recall our oxymoron vs paradox comparison earlier, paradoxes are yet another literary device to bring complexity and depth to your writing. We've answered, "What is an oxymoron," so now it's time to give paradoxes the same treatment. And, yes, we'll talk about Back to the Future and how a paradox works according to Doc Brown.

Up Next: How paradoxes work →
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