Change is the only constant – Isaac Asimov

Can the above quote be called an example of antithesis or that of oxymoron, or neither of these? I am confused because both antithesis and oxymoron have a contrasting effect.

Antithesis: A rhetorical term for the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases or clauses.

Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which incongruous or seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side; a compressed paradox.

Source: About.com

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    Are you sure that quote is correct? As far as I remember, the quote is ‘The only constant is change, continuing change...’ – spiceyokooko Jan 4 '13 at 15:45
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    Whether OP has misattributed those precise words or not, Asimov certainly didn't really "coin" anything much - "change is the only constant" was kicking about before he was even born. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 15:58
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    @FumbleFingers: I quite agree. It's ancient philosophy and is well known everywhere. – user32480 Jan 4 '13 at 16:13
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    @Inglish Teeture: But post-Franklin, we now know that death and taxes are right up there with constant change as things you can confidently rely on. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '13 at 16:19
  • @FumbleFingers: So are corruption and injustice in India – they are constant with every change. – user32480 Jan 4 '13 at 16:27

An antithesis is usually not stating the two things as equal in the same sentence and clause. It does not equate the two, it compares them. It would be considered an example of antithesis if it were written:

"Change is x." "Constancy is y."

However, an oxymoron, in its strict definition, requires that the two words be side by side, as in:

"X was undergoing constant change."

The phrase "The only constant is change..." (the original Asimov quote), or the phrase "Change is the only constant," is best described as a simple paradox.

Or, if you are feeling up to a literary debate with everyone and their grandmother, "irony."


I wouldn't really call this an oxymoron, because that is usually considered to be a noun phrase instead of a statement. I would just call it a paradox, because it is a self-referential statement that produces an apparent semantic contradiction. But since it points to a truth by stating that contradiction it may simply be a form of irony. We immediately understand from your example that nothing is constant, even though at face value the statement would seem to indicate the exact opposite.

Similar statements:

All generalizations are false. [The statement is itself a generalization, yet it points to a truth.]

Nothing is impossible. [For that to be true, it would have to be possible for something to be impossible, yet it still underscores the opposite meaning.]

  • I agree that paradox is the best label, and in particular this paradox (like Russell's, but less technical) illuminates an interesting point. – Andrew Lazarus Jan 4 '13 at 20:28

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