This kind of sentence is usually absurd and may or may not be recognized as such by the person who utters it.

  • She will regret it till the day she dies, if she lives that long!
  • "Aren't you going to John's funeral? After all, you were best friends." "Why should I? I'm sure he won't come to mine."
  • 37
    I'd call it a joke!
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:19
  • 21
    Oxymoron or a witticism if it's meant to be funny.
    – Joe Dark
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 16:32
  • 1
    From the title I would have said 'paradox', but that doesn't really fit the examples in the body of the question.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 18:44
  • 28
    Check your science first. It could be a recessive gene.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 20:04
  • 3
    I think you answered your own question with absurd. (If you want a noun, try absurdity.) Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 23:38

10 Answers 10


The actual term is Irish Bull. (Credit to Centaurus based on our discussion and choster for the related and detailed answer). In the question, it is mentioned that it may not be recognized as such by the person who utters it. An irish bull can have oxymoronic, self-contradictory or paradoxical elements in it but it is actually an absurd statement, so it differs from more general terms like oxymoron or paradox.

An Irish bull is a ludicrous, incongruent or logically absurd statement, generally unrecognized as such by its author.

The addition of the epithet Irish is a late addition.

The "Irish bull" is to the sense of a statement what the dangling participle is to the syntax. A jarring or amusing absurdity is created by hastiness or lack of attention to speech or writing.


"He'll regret it till his dying day, if ever he lives that long."

"Red" Will Danaher, in The Quiet Man


There is a good read about irish bull in the below book:
The God of Ordinary People: A Spirituality By Sean Caulfield


Such quips have always been popular; recall Mark Twain on the important role of the historian as storyteller, because

Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all.

Groucho Marx opens his first autobiography admitting that

I was born at a very early age.

and remarks in a letter that

I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.

But they were humorists; for unintentionally humorous— or insightful— malapropsisms, eggcorns, tautologies, and paradoxes, consider Goldwynism and especially Yogiism (why not Berra-ism?), named for filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn and baseball manager Yogi Berra respectively.

To Goldwyn are attributed such turns as

  • Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
  • I'll give you a definite maybe

Yogi Berra is known for saying things like Nobody goes there anymore— it's too crowded; When you come to a fork in the road, take it; and A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore. His statements have been so widely quoted and misquoted in American media that many people are unaware that he originated such sports clichés as

  • It ain't over 'till it's over.
  • It's déjà vu all over again.

Naturally, as with Goldwyn and many others, some sayings are attributed to him even if there is no evidence he originated them. Berra himself warns:

I really didn't say everything I said.

  • 1
    There is a more specific term. If you could find it I would be glad to accept your answer.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 21:03
  • 1
    I always liked Mae West's: "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."
    – jxh
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 21:16
  • I dunno a more specific term - I would definitely have gone with yogiism as well.
    – neminem
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 21:19
  • +1 for "Nobody goes there anymore— it's too crowded" - I saw the question on hot/trending, and thought "Yogi Berraism." and you nailed it. Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 22:43
  • 1
    +1 over accepted answer since its full of familiar terms. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 7:19

One term possibly applied to such statements is a "paradox".

Apparently, it comes from the greek word 'paradoxon', meaning contrary to expectations (http://literarydevices.net/paradox/).

Some examples that come to mind are:

  • You should read a book on how to treat your illiteracy.
  • There is no worse feeling than apathy.
  • 1
    Somehow when I have a paradox they have different opinions, and I never know which one to believe.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 1:21
  • 2
    An example mentioned above is "I was born at a very early age". I see nothing paradoxical about that. He's basically saying that the first moment of his life was very early in his life, which is true and redundant, but not paradoxical.
    – Adi
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 7:00
  • 1
    @Adnan Yes but that example wasn't the OP's, and the question title is "What do you call a statement containing a contradiction?". Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 18:33
  • This answer is correct. The OP's examples are all paradoxes. None of them are oxymorons. The "epigram" answer below, though, could also be considered correct. Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 5:48

A literal oxymoron - is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory in some cases exposing a paradox. Childlessness - not having children Hereditary - features passed on through act of childbirth

  • Literary maybe but not literal, that would be sharpblunt, at least that's what oxymoron literally means.
    – biziclop
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 20:40
  • 1
    None of the OP's examples were oxymorons. "hereditary childlessness" would be an oxymoron, but not the full statement about a family, which is a paradox or epigram. Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 5:49
  • This is one of these confusing answers on this site that is totally wrong but for some reason has 10 votes.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 15:09

Though I am pessimistic that this is what you are looking for (as it is quite straightforward), I think that it fits the specifications:


  • OP is probably looking for a noun. And a noun other than "contradiction," since he used that in his title. Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 5:58

The term is epigram. It's a short, usually witty, satirical, or humorous statement often with a contradictory or paradoxical twist.


Prefer to call it plain old sarcasm, which a lot of people don't get. Call it what you will, but isn't it wonderful some can twist words like this? Clever, in my opinion, and witty. "Never take life seriously, no one gets out alive." You just have to smile, take it for what it is.


I would call this a contrafactual statement, because if the protagonist exists, then the statement is wrong due to evidence of his own existence, if the protagonist doesn't exist, he couldn't have said it.


I'm not sure how the obvious were left out: perhaps it was respect for the Realm?

We really should leave the Brits out of this:


“And here’s Moses Kiptanui – the 19-year-old Kenyan who turned 20 a few weeks ago.”

Perhaps a sensitive decorum?




Stupid or untrue talk or writing; nonsense.

Not only is this a perfectly good descriptor for the OP, but it is also a politically correct 21st century alternative from the same stock as the ethnically insensitive Irish Bull:

"eloquent and insincere rhetoric," 1915, American English slang;

see bull (n.1) + shit (n.), probably because it smells.

But bull in the sense of "trivial or false statements" (1914), which usually is associated with this, might be a continuation of Middle English bull "false talk, fraud" (see bull (n.3)).

Then visiting Thesaurus.com we see many delightful back-ups:


Thank you Governor Alfred E.Smith from the great state of New York for making it stick!


From Turkey by way of JJ Morier novels.


Lazy Americans can't even finish Bunkum!


Thank you Honorable Congressman Walker, for embarrassing your home town: Buncombe, NC!


Originally reserved for inferior writing.


The illegitimate child of Bunkum and Hocus-pocus?


Your guess is as good as mine :-)


Meaningless talk; nonsense: a la Mr. Malarkey?


Foolish talk or ideas: Flowing from bottle to mouth and out again?


Yutzi? Nonsense:


The Double-Dutch contribution?

It's as clear as mud, but it covers the ground :-)


It is the eqivalent to a double-negative, one side cancelling the other out.

  • Not quite, although I see where you're coming from. Could you edit your answer, and include a definition and a link? Otherwise this post will not meet EL&U's standards and risks deletion. Thanks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 6:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.