Looking for a word or phrase - please help.


Well-Known Member
Jan 20, 2013
I'm looking for a word or phrase to describe a word or phrase that is grammatically constructed, but impossible and/or absurd tasking the meaning into account. For clarity, an example of what I mean would be the phrase "dry water".

Anyone know what this is called?

(I hope this is in the correct section.)
An oxymoron? It means a contradiction in terms.
From Collins English Dictionary: Oxymoron
(rhetoric) an epigrammatic effect, by which contradictory terms are used in conjunction ⇒ living death, fiend angelical

From Dictionary.com (which by coincidence is this week running "13 Essential Literary Terms")
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, such as in the phrase “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly,” or more famously in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet when Romeo utters the lines “O loving hate” and “O heavy lightness” in the opening scene.
I was going to mention 'contradiction in terms' too, along with oxymoron. Wikipedia had one additional note under 'contradiction in terms' (really, 'contradictio in terminis') that may be of some interest:

"If the contradiction is intentional (rhetorical or poetic), then one can speak of an oxymoron."

So some sources suggest there is an element of intent in distinguishing between the two.

Oxymoron is the grammatically correct term for this. But I don't know the background / setting in which you intend to use the term. My thought is that someone literary or in a literary setting would use that term. But there are other settings and terms.

In philosophy a typical put down of an absurd or self contradictory argument etc, would be to call it a meaningless noise. I think that's Russell.

Cheers, Greg.
I guess paradox would only work if the contradiction were true. Using your example, "Dry Water", it would only be a paradox if the water was, well, somehow dry. Meh, maybe it will work for what you need.

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