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Oxymoron

The meaning of «oxymoron»

An oxymoron (usual plural oxymorons, more rarely oxymora) is a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposing meanings within a word or phrase that creates an ostensible self-contradiction. An oxymoron can be used as a rhetorical device to illustrate a rhetorical point or to reveal a paradox.[1][2] A more general meaning of "contradiction in terms" (not necessarily for rhetoric effect) is recorded by the OED for 1902.[3]

The term is first recorded as Latinized Greek oxymōrum, in Maurus Servius Honoratus (c. AD 400);[4] it is derived from the Greek ὀξύς oksús "sharp, keen, pointed"[5] and μωρός mōros "dull, stupid, foolish";[6] as it were, "sharp-dull", "keenly stupid", or "pointedly foolish".[7] The word oxymoron is autological, i.e. it is itself an example of an oxymoron. The Greek compound word ὀξύμωρον oksýmōron, which would correspond to the Latin formation, does not seem to appear in any known Ancient Greek works prior to the formation of the Latin term.[8]

Oxymorons in the narrow sense are a rhetorical device used deliberately by the speaker, and intended to be understood as such by the listener. In a more extended sense, the term "oxymoron" has also been applied to inadvertent or incidental contradictions, as in the case of "dead metaphors" ("barely clothed" or "terribly good"). Lederer (1990), in the spirit of "recreational linguistics", goes as far as to construct "logological oxymorons"[jargon] such as reading the word nook composed of "no" and "ok" or the surname Noyes as composed of "no" plus "yes", or far-fetched punning such as "divorce court", "U.S. Army Intelligence" or "press release".[9] There are a number of single-word oxymorons built from "dependent morphemes"[9] (i.e. no longer a productive compound in English, but loaned as a compound from a different language), as with pre-posterous (lit. "with the hinder part before", compare hysteron proteron, "upside-down", "head over heels", "ass-backwards" etc.)[10] or sopho-more (an artificial Greek compound, lit. "wise-foolish").

The most common form of oxymoron involves an adjective–noun combination of two words, but they can also be devised in the meaning of sentences or phrases. One classic example of the use of oxymorons in English literature can be found in this example from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo strings together thirteen in a row:

O brawling love! O loving hate!   O anything of nothing first create! O heavy lightness, serious vanity!   Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!   Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is! This love feel I, that feel no love in this.[11]

Shakespeare heaps up many more oxymorons in Romeo and Juliet, in particular ("Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical! Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb! Despised substance of divinest show!" etc.) and uses them in other plays, e.g. "I must be cruel only to be kind" (Hamlet), "fearful bravery" (Julius Caesar), "good mischief" (The Tempest), and in his sonnets, e.g. "tender churl", "gentle thief". Other examples from English-language literature include: "hateful good" (Chaucer, translating odibile bonum)[12] "proud humility" (Spenser),[13] "darkness visible" (Milton), "beggarly riches" (John Donne),[14] "damn with faint praise" (Pope),[15] "expressive silence" (Thomson, echoing Cicero's Latin: cum tacent clamant, lit. 'when they are silent, they cry out'), "melancholy merriment" (Byron), "faith unfaithful", "falsely true" (Tennyson),[16] "conventionally unconventional", "tortuous spontaneity" (Henry James)[17] "delighted sorrow", "loyal treachery", "scalding coolness" (Hemingway).[18]

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