Word of the Day: oxymoron

Today’s word is one of my favorite words in the English language. An oxymoron is not a stupid person (or a stupid ox), but a rhetorical device in which the words that make it up are expressed in a seemingly incongruous or contradictory manner. This is sometimes done deliberately for dramatic effect, i.e.: gentle violence.

The oxymoron can be used for dramatic or ironic emphasis and thus it is often found in poetry, such as in Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:

The sun was shining on the sea.
Shining with all his might.
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright.
And this was odd because it was
The middle of the night.

The reader knows that it doesn’t make any sense for the sun to be shining brightly with all his might in the middle of the night, and that’s why this opening stanza is so effective. That and Carroll’s over all poetic brilliance, of course.

There are many different types of oxymorons and Wikipedia does a good job of explaining what they are.  I particularly enjoy the inadvertent oxymorons, which are basically rhetorical mistakes people have made in speech or writing, and they didn’t even realize what they just said or wrote. Examples include:

original copy
extremely average
definite possibility
objective opinion

Some of the above examples have been used so often that one might not even be aware that they don’t actually make any rhetorical sense.

Bye for now.