Paradox: Figure that employs an apparent contradiction which, nonetheless, evokes some measure of truth; a statement which seems at one level to be nonsensical because it moves against a normalcy. At another level, however, the figure conjures a new way of seeing or understanding, a novel meaning.


Ex #1: "Most important institutions are protected and empowered by esteem. To the cynic, a judge is an average woman in a robe; a general is a poser in a costume; a priest is a balding man with sweat staining his armpits. But however accurate these depictions, they are not true. Because of the institutions they serve, these people represent the rule of law, the triumph of duty, the presence of God."

-- Michael Gerson, 12 February 2018, Opinion Section, The Washington Post


Ex #2: "I don't hustle with people who are dishonest."

-- delivered by Woody Harrelson (from the movie White Men Can't Jump)


Ex #3: "The closer we are to danger, the farther we are from harm."

--  delivered by Billy Boyd (from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Further Examples

Michael Collins: They let us out of jail just so we could do our best to be put inside again, Harry. Don't you see a certain paradox in that? Hmm?

Harry Boland: ....

Michael Collins: "Paradox -- a contradiction: where an immovable force meets an immovable object kind of thing.

Harry Boland: Zzzzzzz.

Michael Collins: Hey....

-- delivered by Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn (from the movie Michael Collins)

"Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, my fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans:

I proudly and humbly accept your nomination."

-- Hubert Humphrey, 1964 Democratic National Convention Address

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"Paradox has been defined as ‘Truth standing on her head to attract attention.’ But it must be admitted that writers, like other mendicants and mountebanks, frequently do try to attract attention. They set out conspicuously, in a single line in a play, or at the head or tail of a paragraph, remarks of this challenging kind; as when Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘The Golden Rule is that there is no Golden Rule’; or Oscar Wilde observed: ‘I can resist everything except temptation’; or as a duller scribe (not to be named with these and now doing penance for his earlier vices in the nobler toil of celebrating the virtues of Mr. Pond) said in defense of hobbies and amateurs and general duffers like himself: ‘If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly.’  To these things do writers sink."

-- G.K. Chesterton, When Doctors Agree (Audiobooksforfree.com)

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Captain Ramsey: I understand you two are contemplating a "blitz-out." What sort of blitz were you contemplating?

Captain Hilts: Well, we sneak out at night to a spot I found near the wire -- a blind spot. Then we dig straight down three feet, take the dirt, spread it on top so it won't make a pile, and then straight out. Ives here is a tunnel man, so he digs in front, pushes the dirt behind him, and I stash it behind me. Then we just burrow right through the dirt like a couple of moles. Then by dawn we're under the wire, across the open space, into the woods -- and gone.

Squadron Leader Bartlett: Hilts, how do you breathe?

Captain Hilts: Oh, we got a steel rod with hinges on it and we shove it up and make air holes as we go along.

Flight Lieutenant MacDonald: Now, why didn't anybody think of that before? It's so stupid it's positively brilliant.

-- delivered principally by Steve McQueen, (from the movie The Great Escape)

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"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

-- Mathew 10:16 (NIV)

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"I think it can be said that he now stands with our other American martyrs in the cause of freedom and justice. His death is a terrible tragedy and sorrow -- first of all to his family, to our nation, and to our conscience. The criminal act that took his life brings shame to our country. An apostle of non-violence has been the victim of violence. The cause for which he marched and worked, I am sure, will find a new strength."

- Hubert H. Humphrey, Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josiah Bartlett: So is he [Santos] gonna step aside? 

Leo McGarry: I think so.

Abbey Bartlett: For Baker or Russell?

Leo McGarry: He's hard to read.

C.J. Cregg: Sitting VP should've kicked ass in the primaries. Vinick's gonna mop up the floor with Russell in November.

Josiah Bartlett: VPs are famous but unknown. He'll do better once he's outside my shadow.

- delivered by Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Stockard Channing, and Allison Janney (from the TV series The West Wing, Season 5, Ep. 22.

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"The next time I have a daughter, I hope it's a boy."

-- delivered by Paul Lynde (from the movie Bye Bye Birdie)

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Rhetorical Figures in Sound

Online Speech Bank

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American Rhetoric.
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