Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Joni from Wareham, AL. Joni Wonders, “What is an oxymoron?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Joni!

We were having an after-school snack at the Wonderopolis diner the other day when we overheard a strange conversation at the next table:

Otter: Hey Billy! What's good here?

Beaver: Well, Otto, I always order the jumbo shrimp.

Otter: That sounds great, but I'd better not.

Beaver: Why not?

Otter: Last time I had jumbo shrimp it didn't agree with me and let's just say things got pretty ugly back in the den.

Beaver: Say no more! Same thing happens to me when I have fish tacos!

We didn't stick around to see what they ordered, but their curious conversation did get us to WONDERing about a couple of the phrases they used.

Jumbo shrimp? Pretty ugly? How can something be both a tiny shrimp and described as jumbo? And if something is ugly, how can it also be pretty?

These phrases are known as oxymorons. That's a funny word, isn't it? Say it a few times. Oxymoron. Oxymoron. Oxymoron. The word actually comes from a Greek phrase that means pointedly foolish.

The Webster Dictionary defines oxymoron as "a combination of contradictory or incongruous words." An oxymoron usually consists of two words together that seem contradictory when used together in a literal sense.

Oxymorons aren't meant to be taken literally, however. They're actually figures of speech used to express particular thoughts or feelings that can't accurately be expressed another way. Writers often use oxymorons to convey humor, sarcasm, or irony.

Taken literally, oxymorons seem paradoxical. Considered figuratively, however, they can be powerful expressions that convey meaning in a unique manner. For example, some emotions can best be expressed via contradictions.

Jumbo shrimp is probably the example of an oxymoron used most frequently. There are many examples, however, including: virtual reality, deafening silence, old news, only choice, pretty ugly, act naturally, almost perfect, clearly misunderstood, and only choice.

Wonder What's Next?

Pry open tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day for a precious jewel!