Oxymoron: From the Greek for “pointedly foolish,” a rhetorical figure that juxtaposes two opposite or apparently contradictory words to present an emphatic and dramatic paradox.
EXAMPLES: Bittersweet, friendly fire, genuine imitation, open secret, virtual reality. In William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (1599), Claudio accuses his fiancée, Hero, of infidelity and unchastity as they stand at the altar on their wedding day: “Thou pure impiety and impious purity! …” In her slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Harriet Jacobs defined slavery as a “living death.” Serving as Saturday Night Live’s first host on October 11, 1975, stand-up comedian George Carlin remarked, “The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence — the words don’t go together, man.”