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An oxymoron (plural "oxymora" or the less preferred "oxymorons") is a short phrase (or, on rare occasions, a single word) that is in common use though it appears self-contradictory. Such a phrase can be used for humour, wit or ironic effect in speech or writing.

The most common form of oxymoron involves an adjective-noun combination ("deafening silence", "preventive maintenance"), although they can be constructed from an adverb-verb, as in "inaccurately verified", or as an adverb-adjective, as in "clearly ambiguous". Certain words can be deemed oxymoronic in context, such as "miscorrection" or "bittersweet".

Oxymora occur most frequently in humorous, sardonic or sarcastic commentary:

I do here make humbly bold to present them with a short account of themselves... -- Jonathan Swift
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, / With loads of learned lumber in his head... -- Alexander Pope
He was now sufficiently composed to order a funeral of modest magnificence... -- Samuel Johnson

Oxymora are often used without any deliberate intent, and may indicate a lack of true consideration about what is being said. Examples include "old news", "extensive briefings", "random order", "detailed summary". There is some debate about phrases like "pretty ugly", as it is only contradictory if one takes into account a meaning of a word (like "pretty") different from the meaning intended. "Jumbo shrimp" is a similar case, although this is often offered as a classic example.

There is a style of humour where phrases that are not contradictory are nonetheless presented as oxymora, the humour deriving from the allegation that the terms are contradictory. Examples include "government initiative", "military intelligence", "neutral point of view", "female rationality", "male sensitivity", "Visual Basic Programmer", "corporate ethics", et al.

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