Word for Wednesday: The falsely true tale of Oxymora

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Oxymora or oxymorons are words or phrases in which two or more seemingly contradictory terms are used together.

An often given example of an oxymoron is ‘And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true’. Whilst most oxymorons seem nonsensical, they can actually be useful in descriptions and lend themselves to poetry and creative language to great effect.

Here are some of the bizarre oxymorons used in our language, which somehow manage to make sense:

  • Old news
  • Beyond Infinity
  • Free credit
  • Antimissile missile
  • Loud whisper
  • A nice mess (often misquoted as ‘Another fine mess’)
  • Silent noise
  • Dark light
  • Love hate
  • Ice burn
  • Sweet sorrow (Shakespeare)
  • Sweet savory
  • Accurate estimate

Oxymora do not only occupy the world of language but can also take physical form!

Ever heard of invisible ink? What about electric candles? Plastic glass? Even piano’s full title, 'pianoforte', is an oxymoron! It seems like we cannot escape them...

Interestingly, the word oxymoron itself is an oxymoron – in one of the most beautiful etymologies in our language. In Latin ‘Oxy’ means 'sharp' and ‘moron’ means 'dull'. One of the few words where the word itself is an example of its definition.

What are your favourite oxymorons?

Please send in your suggestions in the comments section or over at our Twitter page @spellzone

Hugh MacDermott

19 Feb 2014
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