O – P


Onomatopoeia is the imitation of natural sounds by words, such as: “crunch,” “gurgle,” “plunk,” and “splash.” In words the onomatopoeia suggests the sound that it represents:

  • The buzzing of bees.
  • The cart clattered to a halt.

An oxymoron is the combination of incongruous or contradictory words—in effect, a two-word paradox. The word “oxymoron” is itself oxymoronic, which is to say contradictory. The word is derived from two ancient Greek words: oxys, which means “sharp,” and moronos, which means “dull” or “stupid”. Oxymoron thus means “sharp stupid”! Thus:

  • “I had a bitter sweet experience.”
  • “It was an open secret.”
  • “Virtual reality is created by some computer games.”

Also consider: “a deafening silence”; “a mournful optimist”; “a lonely crowd”; “a living death”.

Here are some common oxymorons, so common we use them as “normal English” without a second thought: alone together, awfully good, clearly misunderstood, crash landing, devout atheist, found missing, humane slaughter, ill health, loosely sealed, minor miracle, negative growth, plastic glasses, random order, same difference, unbiased opinion, working vacation.


A paradox is an apparently self-contradictory statement, yet it is probably true:

  • “Less is more.”
  • “This is the beginning of the end.”
  • “He is all fault that has no fault at all.”
  • “Growing old is a bad habit, which a busy man has no time to form.”
  • “I can resist anything but temptation.” (Oscar Wilde)

Parallelism is saying the same thing twice but in a slightly different way. The use of successive verbal constructions that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meaning etc. It is intentional and for emphasis and/or effect.

  • “What you see is what you get.”
  • “Wounds caused by knives will heal; wounds caused by words will not heal.”

Paraprosdokian comes from the Greek word meaning “despite” and “expectation”. It is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anti-climax. Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis. Examples:

  • “He was at his best when the going was good.” (Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor).
  • “There but for the grace of God — goes God.” (Winston Churchill).
  • “If I am reading this graph correctly — I’d be very surprised.” (Stephen Colbert).
  • “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else.” (Winston Churchill).
  • “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.” (Dorothy Parker).
  • “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” (Groucho Marx)
  • “She looks as though she’s been poured into her clothes and forgot to say when.” ( G. Wodehouse)
  • “If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.” (Homer Simpson).
  • “I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night.” (Bill Hicks).
  • “Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.”
  • “If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.”
  • “I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.”
  • “The car stopped on a dime, which unfortunately was in a pedestrian’s pocket.”
  • “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” (Dorothy Parker)

Personification is speaking of an abstract quality or inanimate object as if it were a person. Personification is a type of metaphor, but the comparison is between people and inanimate objects. It is as if the objects have developed a personality:

  • “Money talks.”
  • “The trees stood sentry on either side of the path.”
  • “The moon watched over the sleeping children.”
  • “His chair protested as he leaned back.”
  • “The overcast sky gave way to steady rain.”

Pleonasm is using more words or parts of words than are necessary. Examples: black darkness; burning fire; malignant cancer; free, gratis and for nothing.


A pun uses the double meaning of a word or phrase to create a humorous effect:

  • “The cheap eye surgeon was always cutting corneas.”
  • “Those that sing for charity have a band aid solution.”
  • “Can a leopard change his spots? Yes, by moving from one spot to another.”

Back to Top

By Nigel Benetton, science fiction author of Red Moon Burning and The Wild Sands of Rotar

Last updated: Friday, 24th April 2020