An oxymoron is a kind of figurative language in which two contrasting things are connected. These ideas contradict one another but are combined in order to make a larger point. They are used for any number of reasons but usually add drama and interest to the language or a description of a particular place or experience. They can often tap into an emotional quality that a reader might not have otherwise assigned to the subject. An oxymoron can speak to two different, but equally, important qualities of one thing at the same time.
A writer or speaker might use an oxymoron to make speech feel new or original. The endless number of oxymorons that can be created allows for creative and striking new ways of describing similar experiences. The best writers take these opportunities to make the normal feel new again.
Oxymorons are also used for the simple pleasure of language. Those interested in the various aspects of their language can turn to oxymorons to create witty statements and memorable phrases. At other times, oxymorons might be used to add simple humor to a written work. They can be created in order to make a reader laugh or make an experience seem even more outrageous or foolish than it is.
Oxymoron or Paradox
These two literary devices are similar but they are not the same. It is easy to get confused as to when one or the other is functioning. A paradox is longer. It consists of a phrase, sentence, or even a paragraph while an oxymoron is generally just two words linked together in an unusual way. A paradox feels contradictory, but it has at its heart something truthful while oxymorons are used in order to create drama.
Popular Examples of Oxymorons
- Alone together
- Growing smaller
- Sweet sorrow
- Awfully good
- Jumbo shrimp
- Original copies
- Only choice
- Foolish wisdom
- Open secret
- Liquid gas
- Painfully beautiful
- Walking dead
- Small crowd
Examples in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, Romeo and Juliet tells the story of two “star crossed lovers” who come from dueling families. The dramatic plot is filled with several examples of novel words and literary devices which were used for the first time or in an entirely new way. There is a great example of an oxymoron in Act I Scene I. The line is:
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate…
In this short excerpt, Romeo is talking to Benvolio and his obsession with Rosaline. Romeo exclaims these words and concludes with the oxymoronic “loving hate”. This phrase expresses the possibility that love and hate can interact at the same time. One can feel parts of each.
There is another example later on in the play, in Act II Scene II. In this section, Juliet is saying goodbye to Romeo during the famous balcony scene. She says:
Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet
The oxymoron is quite clear in these lines, “sweet sorrow”. She knows she’ll only be parted from him temporarily but it is still a sorrowful occasion. She remains hopeful for the future and a change in their present situation.
One final example can be found in Act III Scene II. In one of the most dramatic scenes of the play, Juliet discovered that Romeo has murdered Tybalt. She is shocked beyond belief and says:
O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical!
The last line of this excerpt contains two great examples of oxymorons. She calls Romeo a “Beautiful tyrant” and “fiend angelical”. These contrasting words strike at the heart of Juliet’s surprise. She did not expect Romeo to be capable of killing and is now dealing with what she feels is duality inside him.