Recently I came across the following in Facebook:
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines ostensibly contradictory terms. Also, the word oxymoron is itself oxymoronic because it is formed from two Greek roots of opposite meaning: ὀξύς (oxus, “sharp, keen”) + μωρός (mōros, “dull, stupid”). Mōros is the root of the word moron.
So, the word oxymoron itself is a single-word oxymoron consisting of two morphemes that are dependent in English similar to sophomore (literally “wise fool”). There are indeed many sophomoric sophomores.
Plural of the word oxymoron is oxymorons or oxymora. However, I prefer the word oxymora for the plural form.
In our daily life, we use oxymora in many contexts, including inadvertent errors such as: open secret, clearly confused, alone together, act naturally, mandatory option and so on.
Many literary works contain literary oxymora. The 17th-century literary work “Idylls of the King” by Lord Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland, has two oxymora:
“And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”
Some oxymora are crafted to show a paradox. On April 26, 2012, DiaNuke.org published an article titled:
“Lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima: Nuclear Safety is an Oxymoron“
The most common form of an oxymoron involves an adjective-noun combination of two words.
dark light, living dead, guest host, little while, mad wisdom, mournful optimist, violent relaxation
Noun-verb combinations of two words also appear infrequently. For example, the line “The silence whistles” from Nathan Alterman’s Summer Night, and the title of a music record album – “Sounds of Silence“.
There are single-word oxymora composed of dependent morphemes:
pianoforte (“soft-loud”), preposterous (“before-after”), superette (“big-small”), etc.
Also, many single-word oxymora are composed of independent morphemes – two meaning-bearing elements that could each be a word in itself joined together to form a single word:
ballpoint, bittersweet, bridegroom, firewater, kickstand, someone, speechwriting, spendthrift, wholesome,etc.
Many oxymora are a pair of words:
awful(ly) good, barely clothed, benevolent despot, benign neglect, build-down, building wrecking, clearly obfuscating, damned good, deliberate speed, elevated subway, exactly wrong, far nearer, final draft, freezer burn, fresh frozen, growing small, hardly easy, idiot savant, industrial park, inside out, light heavyweight, little big, loyal opposition, mobile home, negative growth, old boy, one-man band, open secret, original copy, painfully beautiful, press release, random order, recorded live, sight unseen, small fortune, standard deviation, student-teacher, terribly good, working vacation.
For a longer list of oxymora see my article titled “List of Some of the Many Oxymora I Have Come Across.“
An oxymoron is not always a pair of words; they can also be devised in the semantics of sentences or phrases:
- Andy Warhol: “I am a deeply superficial person.”
- Anthony Haden-Guest: “Of course I can keep secrets. It’s the people I tell them to that can’t keep them.”
- Arthur Baer: “She used to diet on any kind of food she could lay her hands on.”
- Charles Lamb: “I like a smuggler. He is the only honest thief.”
- Clara Barton: “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
- Dolly Parton: “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.”
- Donald Trump: “The budget was unlimited, but I exceeded it.”
- Edna St. Vincent Millay: “I like humanity, but I loathe persons.”
- George Bernard Shaw: “Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.”
- Henry Ford: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”
- Irene Peter: “Always be sincere, even though you do not necessarily mean it.”
- Isaac B. Singer: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.”
- Josh Billings: “Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so.”
- Lord Alfred Tennyson: “And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.”
- Mark Twain: “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
- Oscar Wilde: “I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.”
- Oscar Wilde: “I can resist anything, except temptation.”
- P.G. Wodehouse: “I generally advise persons never ever to present assistance.”
- Samuel Goldwyn: “Modern dancing is so old fashioned.”
- W.C. Fields: “The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.”
- Winston Churchill: “A joke is actually an extremely really serious issue.”
- Winston Churchill: “I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”
- Yogi Berra: “I never said most of the things I said.”
- Yogi Berra: “Why don’t you pair ‘em up in threes?”
Here are some brightly forged oxymora penned by great English writers:
- Byron: melancholy merriment
- Chaucer: hateful good
- Hemingway: scalding coolness
- Milton: darkness visible
- Pope: damn with faint praise
- Shakespeare: parting is such sweet sorrow
- Spenser: proud humility
- Tennyson: falsely true
- Thomson: expressive silence
Polish-born American film producer Samuel Goldwyn (born Szmuel Gelbfisz c. July 1879 – January 31, 1974) was famous for his quick wit and humor. In 1913, Goldwyn along with his brother-in-law Jesse L. Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, and Arthur Friend formed a partnership, The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, the first feature motion picture company on the West Coast. to produce feature length motion pictures.
Once, Samuel Goldwyn commented: “Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.“
When asked about his autobiography, Goldwyn replied: “I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.“
When told his son was getting married, he quipped: “Thank heaven. A bachelor’s life is no life for a single man.“
Here are a few of Goldwyn’s funny oxymora:
- A hospital is no place to be sick.
- A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
- Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.
- Click the ‘Start’ button to shut down the computer.
- Don’t worry about the war. It’s all over but the shooting.
- Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am not always right, but I am never wrong.
- Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day.
- I can give you a definite perhaps.
- I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.
- I never liked you, and I always will.
- I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them five years.
- I paid too much for it, but its worth it.
- I was always an independent, even when I had partners.
- I’ll give you a definite maybe.
- If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive!
- If you fall and break your legs, don’t come running to me.
- If Roosevelt were alive, he’d turn over in his grave.
- Include me out.
- It’s absolutely impossible, but it has possibilities.
- It’s more than magnificent – it’s mediocre.
- Our comedies are not to be laughed at.
- Spare no expense to save money on this one.
- Tell them to stand closer apart.
- The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.
- We’re overpaying him, but he’s worth it.
- List of Some of the Many Oxymora I Have Come Across (tvaraj.com)
- Oxymoron (en.wikipedia.org)
- Samuel Goldwyn (en.wikipedia.org)
- Oxymoronology (fun-with-words.com)