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What is an Oxymoron?

From Word Genius

Oxymorons are some of the oddest expressions in the English language, especially for non-native learners. They are phrases in which each word means the opposite of the other on its own — but when you put them together, they make strange, juxtapositional sense. 

How many of these oxymorons have you used in your everyday conversation?


Act natural

Have you watched a cartoon in which someone shouts, “Quick — act natural!” and everyone in the room immediately does the most ridiculous thing they can think of? By definition, acting is an unnatural performance. Acting “natural,” then, becomes inherently awkward or suspicious.



An aggressive animal will attack. But human beings are more likely to be passive-aggressive. In this annoying and oxymoronic habit, a person will subtly hint at their displeasure, but not directly address it. It often leaves everyone in an uncomfortable predicament.


Assistant supervisor

It’s a confusing title — kind of like Assistant Regional Manager (or Assistant to the Regional Manager). You may have noticed a theme by now that a lot of oxymorons arise from a lack of commitment, and this is no exception. As an assistant supervisor, you’re both the boss and the employee, and for those working for you, the title can be confusing.


Expect the unexpected

Is it possible to expect the unexpected? If you consider all possible outcomes, are they really unexpected, or have you actually succeeded in eliminating the possibility of surprises? Just another conundrum of an oxymoron.


Active retirement

The idea of retirement was once one of relaxation and leisure. But now, people dedicate so much of their life to work, retirement is the time to do everything they never had time for. Active retirement is the oxymoronic goal.

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