Oxymoron is a literary tool that always has a self-contradictory outcome. It is a conjunction of words (or sometimes even just one word), which has an incongruous and sometimes preposterous effect. To define it broadly, it’s a joint use of words that contradict and even disagree with each other but make sense as a whole.

Oxymoron, as a term and a literary device, is old and originates from Greece where it was used to classify the contradictory elements in rhetoric, writing, and speech. The term dates back to 1650-1660 and comes from the Late Latin “oxymorum” and Greek “oxymōron,” consisting of two parts: “oxys,” which translates as sharp (also keen); and “moros,” which has a meaning of foolish. The literary meaning of the Greek “oxymoron” is “pointedly silly,” which implies the deliberate usage of discrepant words.

The synonymous terms, which are often confused with oxymoron, are antithesis and paradox. While antithesis implies the use of the opposing ideas and is easier to be differentiated from oxymoron, it is a common mistake to confuse paradox with oxymoron.

The simplest way to separate these two terms is to look closer at their definitions. While oxymoron implies the usage of a few inconsistent notions, paradox stands for a situation with two events that can’t coexist in reality. To put it simply, an oxymoron is a form of speech, wordplay, and paradox is a somewhat conflicting contradiction of situations. 

Another way to distinguish these two terms is to look at their length. In literary works, a paradox is usually a sentence (or even a couple of them). As for an oxymoron, this play of speech usually consists of two terms that are opposed to each other and can either be combined into one word or used in a two-word phrase.

In addition, a paradox usually combines contrary ideas or concepts in order to describe the underlying truth, which sometimes is hidden from the reader and can be found by giving it a deeper thought. However, an oxymoron doesn’t need to have a deep hidden meaning or lead the reader to a profound thought or a deeper understanding of a concept or a situation.

Oxymoronic words are a versatile device, which is used both in literary pieces and in ordinary day-to-day conversations. As a linguistic device, it has many ways of usage. It creates a dramatic effect and attracts the reader’s attention. It can add a certain flavor or style to the speech and allow the author to depict something or someone in a new, sometimes rather uncommon way. It is able to add an entertaining and somewhat comical effect to the language used in a literary piece. Overall, oxymoron incorporates wit into speech and can be used for the entertaining effect. 

A lot of authors use oxymorons when they want to explain a particular feeling or sensation with as much specification as possible. For example, a common phrase “bittersweet” consists of two opposed terms but allows the reader to understand accurately the feeling it explains. This is where an oxymoron allows the author to explain complicated emotions, feelings, and experiences, which are difficult to express without using literary tools. 

Oxymoron is widely employed in prose, poetry, and speeches. The most conspicuous oxymoron illustrations lie in the works of William Shakespeare. In his “Romeo and Juliet,” he uses this literary device particularly often. You can notice a lot of examples in Romeo’s speech, such as “loving hate,” “bright smoke,” “heavy lightness,” “cold fire,” “brawling love,” “serious vanity,” and so on. In this scenario, the oxymoron is used to add a dramatic effect to Romeo’s speech, to emphasize his emotions, and to express his frustration more brightly and vividly. Shakespeare masterfully applied that oxymoron to help the reader feel the hero’s emotions and have a deeper understanding of his experiences and the situation’s drama.

Another oxymoron illustration can be noticed in the work of Charles Lamb where he calls a smuggler an “honest thief.” Alfred Tennyson also used oxymorons is his works, for example, an “unfaithful faith.”  Both these cases show how oxymorons add wit to the language and encourage the reader to think more deeply and beyond the common logic. 

The fact that we actuate oxymorons in real-life conversations proves how versatile and universal this literary tool is. Such phrases as “original copy,” “awfully good,” “organized mess,” “definite maybe,” “painfully beautiful,” “controlled chaos,” etc. are often found in ordinary conversations. Most of the time, we use them without realizing the fact how incompatible they are and that this literary pattern is called an oxymoron.

The Summary
Oxymoron is a literary technique that can be used both in literature and in ordinary speech. It derives from the Greek word “oxymōron,” which translated as “pointed foolishness.” This literary device implies combining two discrepant terms that don’t fit together logically. It is used to add an incongruous effect to the text; to explain certain concepts, emotions, or feelings and help the reader understand them better; to provide a better expression of an idea that can’t be explained simply, and to add wit or drama to the literary work.