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An oxymoron is a phrase in which the parts are contradictory or incongruous in one of several ways. Often, at least one of the words in an oxymoron is not used literally or has multiple meanings, or there’s some shorthand being used, and the apparent self-contradiction arises from this. To understand more about what an oxymoron is, let’s look at some examples.
Figurative meaning oxymoron.
Vegetarian meatball. There are dozens of vegetarian meatball recipes available on the Internet, despite the fact that anything that deserves the name meatball cannot, by definition, be labeled vegetarian. The word meatball is being used to evoke shape, flavor, and the role of the food in various recipes, and what is really meant is something like “a vegetarian version of a meatball.” However, it’s effective to say just the two words, and – if you think of the second one as being in quotes – a vegetarian “meatball,” meaning it’s only a so-called meatball, it works.
Bigger half. Halves must, by definition, be exactly equal. To say that one half is bigger than another is an oxymoron because it means that they can’t be halves. What’s meant is something like “the bigger of what ought to be, or was intended to be, two equal pieces.”
Bird dog. A dog is one sort of creature. A bird is another. An animal cannot simultaneously be a bird and the mammal called a dog, so this is an oxymoron. What is meant is “a dog that effectively hunts birds.”
Jumbo shrimp. Shrimp is the name for a sea creature. It is also a size designation for something very minute. Therefore, when it is juxtaposed with the word that is in many schemes – eggs and black olives, for example – used for the largest size, jumbo, we are simultaneously aware of both meanings, and an oxymoron results.
Pretty Ugly. Pretty means attractive. It also is used as an intensifier to indicate a moderately large amount, as in “He is pretty hungry/tired/excited, etc.” When it is used in the second sense, but juxtaposed to a word that contradicts the first sense, we are aware of both senses at once, and an oxymoron results. Awfully pretty is the same thing in reverse.