Figure Name oxymoron
Source Silva Rhetoricae (http://humanities.byu.edu/rhetoric/Silva.htm); JG Smith (1665) ("oxymoron"); Macbeth (1876); Gibbons (1767) 240 ("oxymoron"); Holmes (1806) ("oxymoron"); De Mille (1882); Bullinger (1898) ("oxymoron; or, wise-folly"); Johnson (1903) ("oxymoron")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms acutifatuum, wise-folly
Etymology from Gk. oxus, "sharp," "pointed," and moros, "dull," "foolish"
Type Trope
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. Placing two ordinarily opposing terms adjacent to one another. A compressed paradox. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Subtilly foolish: a figure when the same thing is denyed of it self, or when a contrary Epithet is added to any word.; OXYMORON, Acute fatuum aut stulte *cutum, subtilly foolish; derived from [oxy] acumen. sharpnesse of wit, and [mores] stultus, a fool. It is a sentence delivered with such affectation of wit and gravity as renders it ridiculous. A figure when the same thing is denyed of it self, or when a contrary Epithet is added to any word. By this figure contraries are acutely and discreetly reconciled or joyned together, whence it comes to pass that at first sight that seems to be spoken foolishly, which afterwards is acknowledged to have been hidden under a notable and excellent witinesse. (JG Smith)

3. By an easy transition, Wise Folly, or Oxymoron, comes next, according to which words of contrary significatoin are united, thus producing a seeming contradiction; as when Horace speaks of a "strenuous idleness," or Ben Jonson of the "liquid marble" of poetry. (Macbeth)

4. "a Figure in which the parts of a period or sentence disagree in sound, but perfectly accord with one another in meaning; or, if I may call it, it is sense in the masquerade of folly." (Gibbons)

5. In Oxymoron contradictions meet, And jarring epithets and subjects greet. (Holmes)

6. 82. OXYMORON.
There is a peculiar kind of antithesis which arises from the opposition of two contradictory terms. To this the name "oxymoron" is given, by which is mean the saying of that which appears foolish, but yet is wise. It unites words of contrary signification, and produces a seeming contradiction:
"A howling wilderness."
"A pious fraud."
"Travelling is a fool's paradise."-EMERSON.
"He carries ruins to ruins." -EMERSON.
"The borrower runs his own debt." -EMERSON. (De Mille)

7. A WIse saying that seems Foolish... This is a figure, in which what is said at first sight appears to be foolish, yet when we come consider it, we find it exceedingly wise. It is a smart saying, which united words whose literal meanings appear to be incongruous, it not contradictory; but they are so cleverly and wisely joined together as to enhance the real sense of the words... (Bullinger, 801)

8. Oxymo'ron.—This figure consists in the use of terms that are paradoxical or apparently contradictory... This figure is sometimes very effective in oratory when it is used to arouse curiosity by means of a startling paradox, which the audience wish to hear explained. An example of its more familiar forms was furnished by the epithet applied to an
American statesman who was a candidate for high office in 1860— "the little giant." (Johnson, 179-180)


1. Yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe.
—Milton, Paradise Lost 1.62-64

The Sounds of Silence (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. If they are silent they say enough.

That something is nothing.

A man and no man, seeing and not seeing, in the light and not in the light, with a stone and no stone, struck a bird and no bird, sitting and not sitting, upon a tree and no tree.

This is spoken of Androgeus the Eunuch, who being purblinde, struck a bat in the twilight with a pumice stone sitting upon a Mustardtree.

A wanton modesty. Proud humility.

Knowing ignorance.

A numberlesse number. (JG Smith)

3. "Thy country, silent, addresses thee thus." - Cicero (Macbeth)

3. "In the lowest depth a lower depth." - Milton (Macbeth)

3. "A deedful life; a silent voice." - Tennyson (Macbeth)

4. "We may find instances of this kind in the common language of mankind, or that may appear very easy and natural in familiar conversation. A coward dies often, a brave man but once. He is a living death, said of a man in a consumption, or of a malefactor under condemnation. An idiot or a madman is his own grave. No one poorer than that rich man, or he is only a rich beggar, spoken of a wealthy miser." (Gibbons)

5. Proud humility. This bitter sweet. (Holmes)

6. "Take, O take those lips away,
Which so sweetly were forsworn." -SHAKESPEARE (De Mille)

7. Acts 5:41. -"Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
This may sound folly to the natural man, but those who have been "made wise" understand it. The two contrary Greek words mark the Oxymoron more emphatically:- kataxiousthai "to be accounted very worthy," and atimastheenai "to be treated as unworthy," or with indignity. (Bullinger, 802)

8. Young's Night Thoughts furnishes an example.

How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful is man!
A beam ethereal, sullied and absorbed!
Though sullied and dishonored, still divine!
Dim miniature of greatness absolute!
An heir of glory! A frail child of dust!
Helpless immortal! Insect infinite!
A worm! A god! (Johnson, 179)

Kind Of Opposition
Part Of Irony
Related Figures paradox, irony, synoeciosis, antithesis
Notes I added this to a type of irony figuration - Nike
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No