An oxymoron (plural: oxymora, though more commonly seen as "oxymorons") is a figure of speech that combines two terms that are usually considered contradictory. The word "oxymoron" itself is an oxymoron derived from the Greek "oxy" (meaning "sharp") and "moros" (meaning "dull"). While it seems unusual to combine contradictory words, they can be used for exposing truths, for sarcasm, or for dramatic effect.
Some examples from famous authors/artists:
Many people misinterpret the definition by assuming that any two words (taken separately) that may have contradictory meanings are oxymora. This perception is often the result of changing the part of speech of one (or more) of the words, such as reading one word as a noun when it is actually being used as a verb. For example, "cardinal sin" is often perceived as an oxymoron because a cardinal is a high official in the Catholic Church who is though to be pure and godly - not sinful. However, in this case cardinal is not a noun, but an adjective meaning "of fundamental importance".
Thanks to zoeb and hapax for their suggestions.
Ox`y*mo"ron (?), n. [NL., fr. Gr. , fr. pointedly foolish; sharp + foolish.] Rhet.
A figure in which an epithet of a contrary signification is added to a word; e. g., cruel kindness; laborious idleness.
© Webster 1913.
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