Top 50 Oxymora: A List for Writers

In my ongoing posts about writing and the English language, here is another handout I shared with my students at the University of Illinois during my tenure there as a professor and dean. I hope you will find it useful.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two seemingly contradictory or opposite ideas to create a particular rhetorical or poetic effect and reveal a more profound truth. Generally, the ideas will come as two separate words placed side by side. The most common type of oxymoron is an adjective followed by a noun.

Oxymora (that’s the plural of oxymoron) are sometimes useful literary devices for writers. They are okay to use occasionally, but don’t overdo it! If you have read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet you might recall this line which is a classic example of using an oxymoron in literature:

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

 Here is a list I used to give my journalism students at the University of Illinois. It is by no means exhaustive. This list is by no means comprehensive or complete. There are many more floating around out there. Enjoy!

  1. Orderly confusion
  2. Minor crisis
  3. Confirmed rumor
  4. Deafening silence
  5. Known secret
  6. Act naturally
  7. Found missing
  8. Resident alien
  9. Advanced BASIC
  10. Genuine imitation
  11. Airline Food
  12. Good grief
  13. Same difference
  14. Almost exactly
  15. Government organization
  16. Sanitary landfill
  17. Alone together
  18. Legally drunk
  19. Silent scream
  20. Living dead
  21. Small crowd
  22. Business ethics
  23. Soft rock
  24. Butt-Head
  25. Military Intelligence
  26. Software documentation
  27. New classic
  28. Sweet sorrow
  29. Childproof
  30. “Now, then …”
  31. Synthetic natural gas
  32. Passive aggression
  33. Taped live
  34. Clearly misunderstood
  35. Peace force
  36. Extinct Life
  37. Temporary tax increase
  38. Computer jock
  39. Plastic glasses
  40. Terribly pleased
  41. Computer security
  42. Political science
  43. Tight slacks
  44. Definite maybe
  45. Pretty ugly
  46. Twelve-ounce pound cake
  47. Diet ice cream
  48. Working vacation
  49. Exact estimate
  50. Microsoft Works

About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here