Why We Love Oxymorons

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. –Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman loved oxymorons – figures of speech that combine contradictory terms – and so do I. The word derives from the Greek oxys “sharp” + moros “foolish.” Oxymoron itself is an oxymoron. Those clever Greeks.

Literary gurus describe oxymorons as compact paradoxes. Paradox is from the Greek para “contrary to” + doxa “opinion.” According to dictionary.com, a paradox is “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.” Yes, I did just take a big sip of coffee. But enough English 101. Simply put, paradoxes are insightful and fun:

“I can resist anything, except temptation.” –Oscar Wilde

“No one goes to that restaurant any more – it’s always too crowded.” –Yogi Berra

“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.” –Dolly Parton

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

“I am a deeply superficial person.” –Andy Warhol

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” –Groucho Marx

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” –Bob Dylan

Some phrases that weren’t intended as oxymorons are seen as such in the eyes of a satiric world: congressional action, Microsoft Works, airline food.

And for any parents who have hosted a sleepover for a daughter and her friends, there is this oxymoron: slumber party.

In our house, we call it a wakeover.

5 Comments

Happy New Year, John! I enjoy and catch your blog every now and then on EG Patch, but I’d like to subscribe directly. I don’t use an RSS Feed. Is there an email option? Cheers!
Pat Joyce

    Hi Pat: Thanks for reading and commenting. I will look into whether I can have posts go to your email automatically. Right now, automatic notifications go out to people who are following me through their WordPress account. I will be back in touch. Happy New Year!

Hi Pat: Thanks for reading and commenting. I will look into whether I can have posts go to your email automatically. Right now, automatic notifications go out to people who are following me through their WordPress account. I will be back in touch. Happy New Year!

Thanks for reposting – love your site!

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Language Arts Anchor Charts & PostersSeptember 21, 2012 at 7:21 am

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