Oxymoron: Definition & Examples from Literature and Film

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Definition: An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory terms or ideas, creating a paradoxical effect. Orymorons are used for emphasis, humor, or to provoke thought by juxtaposing words that seem to conflict, such as “deafening silence” or “bittersweet.”

Oxymoron is a literary device that is considered a type of juxtaposition.

Common Oxymorons

"deafening silence" oxymoron example.
Deafening Silence Oxymoron

Here are some common examples of oxymorons—phrases that combine contradictory terms:

  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Living dead
  • Clearly confused
  • Act naturally
  • Alone together
  • Seriously funny
  • Awfully good
  • Original copy
  • Only choice
  • Open secret
  • Virtual reality
  • Same difference

Examples of Oxymorons in films

rush hour oxymoron example
Rush Hour Oxymoron

Oxymorons in films mostly appear in movie dialogue when a character uses a common phrase such as those in the list above.

But oxymorons are also common in movie titles:

  1. “Bitter Sweet” (1933) – The title is an oxymoron, combining the opposing flavors of bitterness and sweetness, metaphorically reflecting the contrasting emotions of joy and sorrow in the story.
  2. “True Lies” (1994) – This action-comedy directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis uses an oxymoron in its title to hint at the film’s central theme of a double life, where a seemingly ordinary man lives a secret life as a spy.
  3. “Pretty Ugly People” (2008) – The title is an oxymoron, suggesting a deeper look into how beauty and ugliness are perceived and valued in society, focusing on the characters’ inner beauty and personal growth.
  4. “Walking Dead” (2010-2022) – Although primarily known as a TV series, “The Walking Dead” concept, including movies planned around its universe, embodies an oxymoron in its title, combining life (“walking”) with death (“dead”), reflecting its central theme of zombies or the living dead.
  5. “Rush Hour” (1998) – This title is an oxymoron because “rush hour” often implies a time of day when traffic is at its slowest due to congestion, yet the term suggests speed (“rush”). The film uses this oxymoronic phrase to highlight its protagonists’ fast-paced, action-packed misadventures in contrast to their often stalled, comedic situations.

Examples of Oxymoron in Literature

Parting is such sweet sorrow romeo and juliet oxymoron example

Oxymorons are often found in literature, as they can create dramatic effect, add depth to characters, or make a situation more complex.

Here are several examples of oxymorons found in literature, some of which have made it into movie adaptations of the original plays:

  1. “O brawling love, O loving hate!” – From “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. This line, spoken by Romeo, combines contradictory terms to express the confusion and complexity of love and hate.
  2. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” – Also from “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. Juliet uses this oxymoron to express that leaving Romeo is sorrowful yet sweet because it means they will meet again.
  3. “I must be cruel, only to be kind.” – From “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. Here, Hamlet suggests that he must cause pain to achieve a kinder outcome, showcasing the conflict between his actions and intentions.
  4. “And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.” – From “Idylls of the King” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This line describes a character who remains loyal in a way inconsistent with his faith, highlighting the complexity of faithfulness and truth.

Conclusion

Oxymorons can pique the audience’s interest in film titles and dialogue by promising a story that plays with expectations and explores the complexity of its characters, themes, or situations.

Up Next: Onomatopoeia in Film and TV. Meaning, Definition & Examples

Author

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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