26 Examples of Oxymorons

We use oxymorons all the time, but have you ever thought about how weird they actually are? A closer look at these contradictory phrases and quotes will make you laugh.

What is an oxymoron?

It might sound like a schoolyard insult, but it’s not. An oxymoron refers to a word, phrase, or use of language that seems to directly contradict itself, and it is believed to come from the Greek oxý(s), “sharp,” and mōrós, “dull.” So the word for “oxymoron” actually is an oxymoron in Greek!

Some oxymorons are accidental and/or so common in our speech that we don’t realize that they’re totally contradictory. (“Old news,” anyone?) However, others can be intentional: For instance, in the phrase “deafening silence,” the seeming contradiction only serves to emphasize the intensity of the silence. And, of course, plenty of people use oxymorons intentionally for humorous effect. Here are some of our favorite oxymoron examples from everyday life and pop culture.

Oxymoron examples in everyday expressions

  • Awfully good
  • Bittersweet
  • Civil war
  • Definite possibility
  • Exact estimate
  • Extinct life
  • Grow smaller
  • Only choice
  • Random order

RELATED: Palindrome Examples: Words and Phrases That Are the Same Backwards and Forwards

Oxymoronic objects and concepts

  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Old news
  • Original copy
  • Plastic silverware
  • True fiction
  • Virtual reality
  • Working vacation

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Oxymoron examples in pop culture

  • “Alone Together”: Song by Fall Out Boy
  • Definitely, Maybe: 2008 film
  • Night of the Living Dead: 1968 film
  • “The Sound of Silence”: Song by Simon & Garfunkel
  • “All your perfect imperfections”: John Legend in his song “All of Me”

RELATED: The Best-Ever Hyperbole Examples

Funny oxymoron quotes

  • Clara Barton: “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
  • Dolly Parton: “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.”
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.”
  • Mark Twain: “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
  • Samuel Goldwyn: “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

Next, read up on what an aphorism is and how it’s used.


Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.