Viz: Is 'peaceful demonstration' an oxymoron?

The OP suggests that Jumbo Shrimp is an oxymoron because Shrimp can be used to denote a small person. My take on this is that Jumbo means large in one definition and Shrimp is a crustacean in another definition so Jumbo Shrimp is just a large version of a crustacean and does not always mean Large Small thing

I cannot think of another good example where a qualifier to one definition of a word is an oxymoron and to another is not.


Nowadays, the term oxymoron is used less often in its literal sense and more often as the punchline to a joke. It is used to draw the humorous (and often not actually legitimate) distinction between two things.

For example

military intelligence

is one well-worn example people use to make fun of the military. Is it a legitimate oxymoron? Of course not. The military makes stupid decisions, to be sure, but they often make very smart ones.

Even legitimate oxymorons rely on different senses of a word to achieve oxymoronic status:

That statement was truly false.

Here truly really means really or absolutely; it is not used in its Boolean sense.

Wikipedia notes this usage:

Although a true oxymoron is "something that is surprisingly true, a paradox", modern usage has brought a common misunderstanding that oxymoron is nearly synonymous with contradiction. The introduction of this usage, the opposite of its true meaning, has been credited to William F. Buckley.[4]

Other oxymorons cannot be dismissed so lightly, however. For example, the fictional creatures known as zombies are referred to as the "living dead." In that case, both meanings apply equally, and a true paradox is presented. How can something be alive and dead at the same time? We have to think of a different kind of meaning for "living", to be sure, but it's still pretty close to the kind of life we mean when we say something is alive (except in most cases normal, non-zombie humans have better hygiene and presumably don't want to eat your brain).

  • I know what the word means and most of the jokes. My issue was to find a way to prove that Jumbo Shrimp was NOT an oxymoron when discussing food. +1 for the example Truly False, which is only an oxymoron when people want it to be :) – mplungjan Mar 17 '11 at 12:56
  • 1
    The proof seems to be that an oxymoron has to do with meaning. If the meaning of Shrimp is not "small" then you win! – horatio Mar 17 '11 at 14:23

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