I love pointing out the existence of this part of speech, though I’m not going to lie and say for years I confused an oxymoron with a redundancy. Those phrases really kill me too.

An oxymoron is an actual figure of speech, where two contradictory terms, based on their definitions, are put together. A big one that’s everywhere today is #humblebrag. There’s nothing humble about talking yourself up.

People who use oxymorons should know they’re not making any sense, so why does nobody say anything when they pair contradictory words together?


You’ve probably used these and don’t even realize they’re oxymorons. This part of speech has become intertwined in a way that makes us comfortable with these contradictory phrases. They’re not ‘wrong’ or ‘grammatically incorrect’ either, but they should catch you off guard just a little bit.

  • Organized chaos
  • Grow smaller
  • Close distance
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Only option
  • Same difference
  • Small crowd
  • Remember forgetting
  • Original copy
  • Deafening silence
  • Freezer burn
  • Loyal opposition
  • Only choice
  • Pretty ugly

In literature, oxymorons can take on a poetic and impactful meaning. Some of the best can be found throughout Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. My personal favorite is, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

It’s not just books that are decades/centuries old that have made an oxymoron famous. John Legend’s song, ‘All of Me’ talks about “perfect imperfections” to extol big feelings, and it works.


Theoretically, oxymorons do have a purpose. Combining two contradictory terms can in fact create a fresh meaning with more impact. After COVID, the oxymoron, ‘alone together’ took on new meaning and ‘awfully good’ adds emphasis in a way that no other pairing of words can.

Where would we be today without the oft used oxymoron ‘virtual reality’? When you think about it, this phrase doesn’t even feel contradictory anymore; it’s so ingrained in our lexicon today and such a hot topic of discussion.

Oxymorons become necessary because they are phrases that can impart dramatic effect or make you laugh. This is because their very nature should cause you to pause and really think about what’s being said. Your brain catches on to the contradiction and then reassess how it changes the meaning. This is a good thing. It helps you stay present in what you’re reading rather than glossing over a big chunk of text, most likely not absorbing the content.


While both contradictions in terms, these two literary devices do different things. While an oxymoron pairs two opposite-meaning words together, a paradox deals with contradictory ideas. However much the ideas oppose each other though, a paradox is a paradox because the contradiction makes sense.

Think about the phrase, ‘resisting temptation.’ At first glance if may seem like an oxymoron because these two words mean opposing things, but this is a paradox. Resistance is one thing we do, being tempted another. The very definition of temptation is something you “can’t resist” though, so pairing these words together, actually seeing something tempting and walking away, is a paradox (and something I try to do when it comes to chocolate.)


To sum up my feelings about oxymorons, I have to say that I truly do see the utility of using them. I love the name too, since even though they work, on some level it’s moronic to pair contradictory terms together. I may have always been attracted to the word, to the point that I used to call my little brother an ‘oxymoron’ when I was mad.

As far as how I use this part of speech — it’s sparingly. While they’re not wrong, my cringe factor for pairing words together than are redundant or essentially cancel each other out is still high. Even if you love them, I’d suggest reigning in the frequency of oxymoron use. They’ll have more impact that way, and deep down, that’s all we want these unique literary devices to give us.