Rhetorical Device: Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two seemingly contradictory terms are juxtaposed against eachother because their unlikely combination reveals a deeper truth. They are usually placed side-by-side in word pairs, though they can occur in different parts of a phrase too. Oxymoron is often called a "contradiction in terms" although these concepts are not identical (a contradition in terms is not a Figure of Speech and is a slightly broader concept than oxymoron). Oxymoron is considered to be a condensed form of paradox.

An example of an oxymoron is the term black gold. If taken as colors, 'black' and 'gold' seem to contradict eachother. But if you understand that in this context, 'gold' means something valuable, and black refers to the colour, then you will realise that the term black gold is a loaded term meaning 'oil'.

Oxymoron is often used to create a dramatic effect or to emphasize a point in public speaking. It can be used to draw attention to the speaker's point and to challenge the audience to think about the contradition. Oxymoron can also evoke emotion and create a memorable moment in a speech.


I am a deeply superficial person Andy Warhol

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfectionsJohn Legend, "All of Me"
WWS rhetorical device explainer card on oxymoron

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast! William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliette, Act 2 Scene 2"

We did something that is really considered a medical miracle. They're calling it a miracle -- and that was the vaccine. We got the vaccine developed in nine months instead of nine years or five years or 10 years or a long time. It was supposed to take a long time many, many years to develop a vaccine. We have two out. We have another one coming almost immediately. And it really is a great achievement. So you should start to see really good numbers over the next few months. I think you're going to see those numbers really skyrocket downward. Donald Trump, "Joint Base Andrews Departure Ceremony Address" (20 January 2021)

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.John Lewis, "Posthumous New York Times Opinion piece" (30 July 2020)

Further reading

  • Oxymoron List Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard: "100 Awfully Good Examples of Oxymorons" ThoughtCo Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Grammarly: Oxymoron Visit
  • Wikipedia: Oxymoron Visit
  • LiteraryDevices.net: Oxymoron Visit
  • LitCharts: Oxymoron Visit
  • John Lewis: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation (paywall) Visit