30.9.09

Literary Terms: "P" is for Paradox

Literary terms are often tricky for students. So I came up with this guide for the perplexed. Paradox - a statement that is apparently self-contradictory or absurd, but really contains a possible truth. Sometimes the term is applied to a self- contradictory false proposition. It is also used to describe an opinion or statement which is contrary to generally accepted ideas. Often, a paradox is used to make a reader consider the point in a new way.

The term is from the Greek paradoxos, meaning “contrary to received opinion” or “expectation.” Here is a list of cogent examples. 
The child is father to the man
William Wordsworth,
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” 1807
They have ears, but do not hear !
Psalm 115



Cowards die many times before their deaths
Bill Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act II, scene ii : line 32

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

George Orwell, Animal Farm

I can resist anything except temptation
Oscar Wilde

Death, thou shalt die
John Donne, "Death, Be Not Proud"

An example of a paradox in everyday speech:
Deep down, he's really very shallow

Theological Paradox: Christ died so we may have life!

Paradoxical Dialogue:

Me: What is better than eternal bliss?
You: Nothing.
Me: But a slice of bread is better than nothing.
You: So a slice of bread is better than eternal bliss.

Common Paradox:
Nobody goes to that restaurant; it's too crowded.

Time Machine Paradox:
A girl goes into the past and kills her Grandmother.
Since her Grandmother is dead, the girl was never born. If she were never born, she never killed her grandmother.


Physics Paradox
What happens if you are in a car going the speed of light and you turn the headlights on?

Nota Bene:
When a paradox is compressed into two words, as in “loud," silence,” “lonely crowd,” or “living dead,” it is called an OXYMORON.

For teachers:


I made a minilesson available on TpT 

Literary Terms: Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Oxymorons (Minilesson) 

The resource includes the following nifty features for a Minilesson:
  • 2-sided handout on paradoxes, contradictions, and oxymorons
  • 15 quotes and example from literature and other common sources
  • 1 "Further Reading" guide to take your students to the next level

1 comment:

  1. The theological statement is not a paradox.

    The paradoxical dialogue does not take into account that there may be a spectrum from nothing to eternal bliss. Presumably there is a path to eternal bliss; the state is not absolute or, therefore, nonexistant.

    As for Psalm 115, let me just say that I am a mom, and this statement is absolutely true!!

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