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Oxy Words: “oxymora” to “paroxysm”,
Part 2 of 2

Words that include: oxy-, -oxia, -oxic (Greek: sharp, acute, pointed, keen; sour, acid, acidic, pungent).

oxymora (plural):
Sharp, keen plus foolish, dull; “pointedly foolish” pronounced [ahk" si MOHR uh].

“Oxymoronology” by Richard Lederer

Sometimes when the word “oxymoron” is used, someone will exclaim, “Good grief! What is an oxymoron? Is it a dumb bovine?” No, far from it.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two incongruous, contradictory terms are yoked together in a small space. In fact, “good grief” is an oxymoron.

Even the word oxymoron is itself oxymoronic because it is formed from two Greek roots of opposite meanings:

oxys, “sharp, keen”, and moros, “dull, foolish”, the same root that gives us the word moron.

Richard Lederer divided oxymora into several categories:

  • Single-word oxymora composed of dependent morphemes:
    sophomore (wise fool)
    pianoforte (soft loud)
    preposterous (before after)
    superette (big small)
  • Single-word oxymora composed of independent morphemes:
  • Logological oxymora:
    nook (joins the opposing words no and ok)
    noyes (joins the opposing words no and yes)
  • Natural oxymora (considered “natural” because the perception of these duos as oxymora is relatively direct and effortless and does not depend on plays on words or personal values):
    inside out
    student teacher
    working vacation
    small fortune
    open secret
    sight unseen
    loyal opposition
    idiot savant
    light heavyweight
    original copy
    final draft
    random order
    negative growth
    elevated subway
    mobile home
    benign neglect
    benevolent despot
    fresh frozen
    recorded live
    one-man band
    old boy
    living end
  • Punning oxymora (punning is the compacting of two meanings into a verbal space that they do not occupy in ordinary discourse):
    jumble shrimp
    flat busted
    even odds
    baby grand
    female jock
    death benefit
  • Conversion puns (oxymoronic pairs that rely on the coexistence of two parts of speech for the same word):
    press release
    divorce court
    building wrecking
    white rose
  • Dead metaphors (a word becomes oxymoronic when it is set alongside another word that collides with its earlier meaning):
    awful(ly) good
    terribly good
    damned good
    many fewer
    barely clothed
    clearly obfuscating
    far nearer
    growing small
    hardly easy
    a little big
  • Crafted oxymora (an apparent sense of conscious contrivance and crafting):
    Little Giant (for Stephen Douglas)
    confidently scared
    same difference
    accidentally on purpose
    global village
    lead balloon (It went over like a lead balloon)
    dull roar (Keep it down to a dull roar)
    old news
    death benefit
  • Literary oxymora:
    hateful good (Geoffry Chaucer)
    proud humility (Herbert Spenser)
    melancholy merriment (George Gordon Byron)
    sweet sorrow (William Shakespeare)
    darkness visible (John Milton)
    scalding coolness (Ernest Miller Hemingway)
    falsely true (Alfred Tennyson)
  • Doublespeak oxymora (language that avoids or shifts responsibility or is at variance with its real or purported meaning):
    genuine imitation
    real counterfeit [diamonds]
    new and improved (can anything be both?)
    terminal living
    mandatory option
  • Opinion oxymora (the injection of personal values and editorializing):
    military intelligence
    non-working mother
    young Republican
    war games
    peacekeeper missile
    business ethics
    student athlete
    educational television
    postal service
    airline food
    rock music
  • Technological oxymora:
    paper table-cloths
    green blackboards (AKA: “chalk boards”)
    metal wood
    plastic silverware (glasses, wood)

Should oxymoronic strings, like the double-play “fresh frozen jumbo shrimp”, be accorded special mention? What about triple plays in which all three words interact; such as, “permanent guest host”?

While the forms that oxymora assume are far from infinite, they are intriguingly varied. The boundaries separating one category from another blur and shift even as we draw them, but the lines can be useful. As all taxonomists should know, it is not always easy to know where the front of a horse ends and the back begins, but we usually can perceive the difference between a horse’s head and a horse’s rear end.

Source Lederer, Richard. “Oxymoronology.”
Word Ways, Vol. 23, No. 2; May 1990, pp. 102-105.

You may find extensive lists of oxymora with a simple click.

oxymoron (singular):
Sharp, keen plus foolish, dull; pronounced [ahk" si MOH rahn], from Greek, oxy-, “point, sharp” and moron, “foolish”]. A rhetorical figure by which contradictory or incongruous terms are conjoined so as to give point to the statement or expression; an expression, in its superficial or literal meaning self-contradictory or absurd, but involving a point.

A well-known example of literary oxymora is Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine”:

The shackles of an old love straiten’d him
His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
and faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.

Suggestive of oxymoron; incongruous, self-contradictory.
Producing or secreting acid; used primarily in reference to the parietal cells of the stomach.
oxyopia, oxyblepsia:
Abnormal acuteness or sharpness of sight.
The reciprocal of the visual angle, used as a measure of visual acuity.
An abnormal acuteness of the sense of smell; oxyosphresia
Excessive, or abnormal, acuteness of the sense of smell.
oxypathia, oxypathy:
1. Unusual acuity of sensation.
2. An acute condition.
3. A condition in which the body is unable to eliminate unoxidizable acids, which combine with fixed alkalies of the tissues and harm the organism.
The introduction of oxygen into the peritoneal cavity.
Having sharply pointed petals.
oxyphil, oxyphilic, oxyphilia, oxyphilous:
1. Acid-loving, applied to certain white blood-corpuscles or other cells having an affinity for acid dyes.
2. In botany, living or thriving in acidic soil, acid loving.
3. Staining readily with acid dyes.
Unable to tolerate soil acidity.
oxyphobia, oxyphobous:
In botany, living or thriving in alkaline soil; not tolerant of acidic conditions.
oxyphonia, oxyphony:
Excessive acuteness or shrillness of the voice.
Having pointed leaves.
oxyphyte, oxyphytic:
In botany, a plant that grows in an acidic environment.
oxyrhine, oxyrhinous:
1. Sharp-nosed, sharp-snouted.
2. Possessing an acute sense of smell.
Sharp-snouted; sharp billed.
1. The lithosphere or the solid, outer layer of the earth, consisting of the crust and upper mantle.
2. The geosphere or the combination of the earth’s lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.
A directed response of a motile organism to an oxygen stimulus; oxytactic.
Quick-tempered; easily riled or angered.
1. Referring to or characterized by rapid labor.
2. An agent that hastens childbirth by stimulating contractions of the myometrium.
1. A hormone produced by the hypothalamus that is stored and released by the pituitary gland. It causes contractions of the uterus and the release of milk from the mammary glands.
2. A smooth muscle contraction-stimulating hormone found in the neurohypophysis.
An orientation response to an acid stimulus.
An orientation response to an oxygen gradient stimulus.
An agent that destroys pinworms.
Having a pointed tail.
paroxysm, paroxysmal:
1. An increase of the acuteness or severity of a disease, usually recurring periodically in its course; a violent temporary access of disease; a fit.
2. A violent access of action or emotion; a fit, convulsion (e.g. of laughter, excitement, rage, terror, etc.; also said of physical processes, as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions).
3. Violent or convulsive physical action.