WORD NERDS QUIZ: What is an oxymoron?

By Barbara McAllister
What does oxymoron mean?

Is it…
A. Living dead
B. Virtual reality
C. Goodbye reception
The correct answer is: All of the above!
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two apparently contradictory terms are put together. The word “oxymoron” is itself an oxymoron. It comes from two Greek words that mean sharp and foolish or dull.
Virtual means artificial, so “virtual reality” means “artificial reality,” a contradiction in terms. A reception is an occasion to formally welcome something, so a “goodbye reception” sends a mixed message at best. And despite the popularity of “The Walking Dead” TV series, “living dead” is an oxymoron. Something can be dead or living, but it can’t, by definition, be both.
If you think about some of the phrases we use every day, you realize many are oxymoronic. Consider “busy doing nothing,” “clearly confused,” “act naturally” or “open secret.”
Can silence be deafening, variables constant or something be deeply superficial? What about appear invisible or original copy? And there’s no such thing as random order or growing smaller. Sentences can also be oxymoronic like, “Plan to be more spontaneous,” “Be proud of your humility” and “Honk if you’re against noise pollution.”
Try looking for hidden oxymorons. It is serious fun!