Paradox is an Amusing, Useful Literacy Device

“This sentence is false.” Logically, the statement “this sentence is false” is true. But if it’s true, then the sentence must be false. This circular kind of thinking could continue forever.

Breaking down the statement “this sentence is false” is one way to explain the concept of paradox. According to, a paradox is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory but may contain some truth.

The word paradox comes from the Greek word paradoxon, which means “contrary to expectations, existing belief or believed opinion.” Paradoxes are most often used in literary works, with humorous intent, or both.

A lingual concept related to paradox is oxymoron, which is defined by as two words with opposite meanings that are used together to create one meaning. Oxymoron and paradox are similar in some ways but different in others. While an oxymoron combines two opposite-meaning words, a paradox contradicts itself and can be a phrase or even a whole sentence. An oxymoron often seems not to make sense, at least at first, and usually has a dramatic effect. “Cruel kindness” is one an example of an oxymoron; “jumbo shrimp” is another.

Comparatively, paradoxes typically have hidden meanings, especially when used in works of literature. William Shakespeare used many paradoxes throughout his plays and sonnets, for example. Writers like Shakespeare use these devices to entertain and teach readers, who may enjoy finding the hidden meaning in a text.

Even though the concept of the paradox is ancient, it still delights and amuses readers to this day. Writers continue to make use of paradox and likely will for many years to come.


As a past English major, I really enjoyed reading this piece. Nice work, Callan! Your explanations are both clear and comprehensive. – MckennaMadison, WI (2017-02-07 18:32)