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Updated Mar 1, 2023

The Power of Oxymoron: A Rhetorical Device that Defies Logic


In the world of literature and rhetoric, writers often employ various techniques to captivate readers and convey their message effectively. One such technique is the use of oxymorons, a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms to create a powerful and thought-provoking effect. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of oxymorons, their purpose, and provide accurate examples of this rhetorical device in action.

What is an Oxymoron?

An oxymoron is a literary device that combines two contradictory or opposing terms to create a seemingly paradoxical statement. Despite the apparent contradiction, oxymorons are intentionally used to convey a deeper meaning or evoke strong emotions in the reader. The juxtaposition of contradictory words often serves to highlight a particular concept, emphasize a contrast, or create a vivid image in the reader's mind.

Examples of Oxymorons

To better understand the impact of oxymorons, let's explore some accurate examples that have left a lasting impression in literature:

1. "Bittersweet"

The term "bittersweet" combines two contrasting emotions, bitterness and sweetness. This oxymoron is commonly used to describe situations or experiences that evoke mixed feelings of joy and sorrow simultaneously. For instance, bidding farewell to a loved one can be a bittersweet moment, as it brings both happiness for their new journey and sadness for their departure.

2. "Jumbo Shrimp"

The phrase "jumbo shrimp" brings together the contradictory terms "jumbo" and "shrimp." By combining these words, the oxymoron creates a visual contradiction, emphasizing the irony or absurdity of the situation. This example showcases how oxymorons can inject humor into language and challenge our expectations.

3. "Deafening silence"

The oxymoron "deafening silence" juxtaposes the contradictory concepts of sound and silence. It is used to describe a situation where silence becomes so intense and overwhelming that it feels deafening. This powerful combination of words enables the reader to experience the profound impact of silence in a unique way.

4. "Living dead"

The oxymoron "living dead" brings together two terms that seem incompatible: life and death. This phrase is frequently used in literature and film to describe characters who are physically alive but lack emotional or spiritual vitality. By employing this oxymoron, authors can convey a sense of emptiness and hollowness, highlighting the internal struggle of these characters.

The Purpose of Oxymorons

Oxymorons serve several purposes in literature and rhetoric. Here are a few key reasons why writers employ this rhetorical device:

1. Creating Memorable Contrasts

By combining contradictory terms, oxymorons create striking contrasts that linger in the reader's mind. They challenge conventional thinking and force us to consider ideas from different perspectives. This memorable contrast helps convey a message more effectively and ensures that readers are engaged with the text.

2. Evoking Emotional Responses

Oxymorons often evoke strong emotions by presenting contradictory ideas in a concise manner. These contradictory terms can intensify the emotional impact of a statement and elicit a powerful response from the reader. By utilizing oxymorons strategically, writers can make their readers feel a wide range of emotions, from joy to sadness, surprise to contemplation.

3. Enhancing Descriptions and Imagery

Through the use of oxymorons, writers can create vivid descriptions and imagery that leave a lasting impression. By combining contradictory words, an oxymoron can paint a picture in the reader's mind that is both surprising and thought-provoking. This technique adds depth and complexity to the narrative, making it more engaging and visually stimulating.


Oxymorons are a powerful rhetorical device that defies logic by combining contradictory terms to create a lasting impact on readers. Through their ability to create memorable contrasts, evoke strong emotions, and enhance descriptions and imagery, oxymorons play a vital role in literature and rhetoric. By understanding and appreciating the art of oxymorons, readers can gain a deeper insight into the complexities of language and the power of words. So next time you encounter an oxymoron, take a moment to appreciate the brilliance behind this contradictory figure of speech.

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