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How to Write Clear, Readable, Effective Sentences that Readers Love!
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Figures of Speech —
the Oxymoron

the Oxymoron(The correct plural form of oxymoron is the word oxymora. However, most people use the word oxymorons as the plural form, even though it is incorrect. The term is so widely used that it is acceptable in today's language. Therefore, we will use both oxymoron (singular) and oxymorons (plural) in this article.)

The term "oxymoron" stems from the Ancient Greek words "oxy" and "moros." These two words when used in combination meant "sharp-dull." If we go back to when Greek philosopher Aristotle lived (384 BC - 322 BC), society referred to an oxymoron as an "intellectual quip of assembling two seemingly opposite terms into a valid, paradoxical descriptions of something." While not as jarringly funny in today's common age, we use this figure of speech as a literary device to make readers actively focus on our writing.

Let's look at how we can form an oxymoron. First, two seemingly unrelated words have at least one word which is not used literally; and secondly, the word has multiple meanings, or the writer uses some form of shorthand. This is important to making a term like "dark light" logically feasible. Darkness, or the shortened version of the word, "dark," refers to an object lacking light. But we can also use "dark" as an adjective to describe something with little or no perceivable light. Thus, a seeming contradiction forms between the use of these two words. "Dark light" is a shorthand oxymoron.

An example of an oxymoron with a figurative meaning might be a "vegetarian hotdog." A hotdog, by definition, is made out of meat products and a vegetarian does not consume meat. Then why can we find many recipes that use such an object that shouldn't logically exist? It's because a "vegetarian hotdog" is a vegetarian version of a hotdog. If it helps to understand how this works, think of the second word in quotes. A vegetarian "hotdog" isn't really a hotdog, it is just a substitute for one.

The last type of oxymoron is a double-meaning oxymoron. A good example is the term "jumbo shrimp." Jumbo refers to something large or something that is the largest out of a selection of items, such as jumbo eggs. Shrimp typically refers to something very small or an actual animal. When we place together these words, we form an apparent impossible idea, like a "large tiny thing," that instead refers to the valid idea of a sea creature which is amongst the largest of its kind.

Other examples of popular oxymorons include: a "deafening silence," such as a silence heavy enough to hear the most minute of sounds; "pretty ugly," a word for beauty that has a double-meaning as an approximate measurement of "a lot" coupled with something that isn't pleasing to view; and an "only choice," where "choice" implies more than one option and only restricts it to simply one.

The goals of using oxymorons is to make writing sound more succinct and compact, as well as to allow for a heightened sense of poetic value. Make sure to use oxymorons sparingly and to keep your reader hooked on your every word. The best place to use an oxymoron is where you want your reader to take a mental pause to stop and reflect over the apparent contradiction in your writing and to come back to refocus on your next words.

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