Difference Between Paradox vs Oxymoron

Difference Between Paradox vs Oxymoron

Today’s post is all about determining the difference between paradox and oxymoron so that we can finally lay to rest this often confusing comparison that has been the source of ire for those studying literature on many an occasion!

Though the two concepts involve contradictory word play, they revolve around slightly different thought processes and structures that we’re going to reveal today in full to completely resolve any headaches you may be having about this subject. Read on for everything you need to know.

Definition of Paradox

A paradox is: “The use of two contrasting ideas to provoke thought and reveal a hidden truth or perspective.”

Where the contrasting elements between paradox vs oxymoron lie at large is in the use of words to convey the similar impact that they both mutually aim to deliver. Ultimately, both devices are used to provoke an alternative perspective on something that may initially seem “normal.”

How a paradox achieves this is via presenting two very different alternating extremities, whether it’s a description or an action, and using them to make the reader consider an idea, thought process, or any scenario in a way that they perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise.

An example of a timeless and often referred to paradox is the classic statement, “I can resist anything but temptation,” by Oscar Wilde. The sentence initially implies that the person being described is very strong-willed due to them saying that they can resist “anything.”

However, as we progress through the sentence further, we arrive at the phrase “but temptation.” What makes this sentence provoke thought is the fact that a strong-willed person is supposed to resist temptation.

By saying that you’re strong willed but unable to resist temptation, you’re saying in a backwards way that you aren’t strong willed at all! You could also describe a paradox as an inversion of two opposing descriptions where one piece of information or idea essentially cancels out the other to reveal one singular truth.

Definition of Oxymoron

An oxymoron is: “Any sentence featuring the use of two words of an entirely contrasting nature either directly or passively linked together.”

Again, when reading the above description, we find that the difference between oxymoron vs paradox lies in contradiction. Once again too, the intended end result when presenting this contradiction is to provoke a thought process that perhaps wouldn’t have been triggered otherwise.

Where an oxymoron stands out on its own compared to a paradox is that it’s more about the use of directly contradictory words than it is the use of contradictory ideas or thought processes. In some ways, this makes an oxymoron easier to recognize.

An oxymoron example we can highlight to deepen your understanding of the device is the sentence, “Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,” from Idylls of the King by Tennyson. The sentence is quite literally stating that several forms (a gathering of people) appears well seeming (composed, calm, and in good health).

The same sentence also states that the well seeming forms are experiencing chaos and are “misshapen,” suggesting possible disarray and turmoil amongst them. This takes one idea and presents it as another through the direct use of entirely contrasting words to make you view the people in question differently.

Main Differences Between Paradox vs Oxymoron

Here is every major difference between oxymoron and paradox:

Basis of ComparisonOxymoronParadox
StructureTwo contradictory wordsAn entire paragraph or sentence
Usually presented withOpposing singular factsActions
GeneraVery literalA figure of speech
Word originOxymorum (Greek)Paradoxos (Greek)
Examples“Falsely true”“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”

Difference Between Paradox And Oxymoron: Conclusion

Though the two literary devices may at first seem identical further inspection reveals that they are quite different from one another. Just remember that while contradiction lies at the heart of both mechanisms, a paradox achieves its end result with several words or a description whereas an oxymoron is two directly linked but opposite words. If you find yourself confused about this subject again at any point, come back to our quick reference table for a refresh.