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  • Rhetoric. A figure of speech in which a pair of opposed or markedly contradictory terms are placed in conjunction for emphasis.

[1640 E. REYNOLDS Treat. Passions xvii. 186 It was a bold but true {olenis}{xi}{guacu}{mu}{omega}{rho}{omicron}{nu} of Seneca. Mortibus vivimus.] 1656 J. SMITH Myst. Rhetorique 121 Oxymoron, {olenis}{xi}{guacu}{mu}{omega}{rho}{omicron}{nu}, Acutifatuum aut stulte acutum, subtilly foolish. a1677 I. BARROW Several Serm. Evil-speaking (1678) ii. 59 Some elegant figures..lofty Hyperbole's, Paronomasies, Oxymorons..lie very near upon the confines of jocularity. 1792 W. ROBERTS Looker-on No. 30 (1794) I. 427 These contradictory gentlemen..were thus pressed together in a forced kind of union, like the figure oxymoron. 1850 C. ANTHON in Cicero De Senectute 164 In giving sensim its strict literal meaning, we will perceive here both an alliteration and oxymoron, the idea being, in fact, this: ‘life grows old so gradually that we perceive it, and yet do not perceive it.’ 1890 Q. Rev. 160 289 Voltaire..we might call, by an oxymoron which has plenty of truth in it, an ‘Epicurean pessimist’. 1930 Speculum 5 63 Like other mediaeval poets Joseph pushes oxymoron to a stage where it borders on the absurd. 1982 I. HAMILTON Robert Lovell xx. 370 Many of the sonnets are recognizably by Robert Lovell; they employ his verbal tricks{em}his triple adjectives, his gnomic oxymorons.

  • More generally: a contradiction in terms.

1902 Words by Eyewitness 206 The Boer set free from the discipline of the commando is a loafer of loafers, though, it is true, a living oxymoron in his activity and resource in the loafing game. 1989 Texas Monthly Oct. 32/2 ‘Healthful’ and ‘Mexican food’ need not be an oxymoron. This out-of-the-way tortilla factory and restaurant uses organic grains and natural chicken and beef in its recipes and low-cholesterol canola oil for frying. 1993 Guardian 28 Aug. 22/5 This opened up an oxymoron too dreadful to contemplate: affordable caviar.