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It’s Oxymora, Idiots Savants, not Oxymorons!
An oxymoron is a literary figure of speech in which contradictory or opposite terms or
ideas are combined to create a rhetorical effect by paradoxical means. The word is said
to come from the Greek elements, oxy- = “sharp, pointed” and moros,
moron = “dull, foolish”; in other words, “pointedly foolish”.
An oxymoron is also said to be “a wittily paradoxical turn of phrase that appeals
to ‘unconscious responses instead of rational examinations.’ ” Wow! Did
you grasp all of that? Sometimes dictionaries can create more confusion than
clarification. Well, I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Look up the
words if you don’t know what they mean!” That’s one method that can be
used to expand your vocabulary skills. Having a good dictionary, and using it, is one of
the most important sources you can have for personal-word development.
The simplest definition of an oxymoron is the use of words, phrases, or statements
that have meanings which are contradictory to each other. For example, one of the most
common oxymora is “jumbo shrimp”. Jumbo simply means “very large”
while shrimp means “very small (animal, etc.)”; which illustrates two
opposite sizes. Some oxymora are not obvious and may require an understanding of regional
or verbal interpretations and there are even those that indicate certain prejudices.
Oxymoron is the singular form and oxymora is the plural
form, despite the misuse of “oxymorons” as the plural form by those who
should know better.
Oxymora are not necessarily mistakes or errors in speech or writing. They make
effective titles and phrases and some combinations are even humorous; however, sometimes
they are bloopers or incorrectly interpreted as oxymora. While researching this list, I
found hundreds of lists many of which included phrases that were pleonasms (redundancies)
rather than opposites.
According to Evan Esar in Esar’s Comic Dictionary, an oxymoron is
“a figure of speech that stands for a self-contradictory expression, like a chaste
whore or an honest politician.” Malcolm Muggeridge, who predated Esar, said,
“Good taste and humor are a contradiction in terms, like a chaste whore.”
Could this be a case of “honest plagiarism”?
Lists of oxymora are provided below for your reading pleasure. If you know of any
oxymora that are not here and you believe they would be appropriate for this list, please
send them and I’ll incorporate them into these examples (if I agree that they are
right for this page). The oxymora shown here are from many sources and new ones keep
showing up in the various media. If you do send any to me, please indicate where they
came from and (when possible) the names of the persons who said them.
There are some oxymora lists that actually include monopoly as an
Do you think it is one? I maintain that it is not an
oxymoron nor can it be one. Do you know why it isn’t? If you would like to know
why it can not be an oxymoron, write to me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) and
I’ll explain the etymological reasons that disqualify “monopoly” as an
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You will also find the pleonasm list of