My Christmas Memories + 10 Must-Know Oxymorons

156 - My Christmas Memories (+10 Must-Know Oxymorons)


Words that are bolded in red are suggested vocabulary words for this episode.


In 2001, Bjork, an Icelandic singer, showed up to the Oscars wearing a white swan-inspired dress. A swan, as you may know, is an elegant white bird that enjoys floating around lakes and rivers. It’s graceful.

Bjork’s swan-inspired dress wasn’t made out of the real animal. It was made out of fabric by a designer. The swan’s neck was draped around her own, and the head of the swan dangled near her shoulder. As she walked down the red carpet, all heads turned in her direction. That dress made fashion history. 

Yet, while some critics described it as creative, others simply stated it was pretty ugly. What did they mean by that? Was it pretty, or was it ugly? We’ll get to that in a second. Pretty ugly is an oxymoron. It is a literary device that contains two contradictory terms: pretty and ugly. By nature, oxymorons are paradoxical. They don’t make sense. That’s why I’m here. Today, I’m going to teach you 10 – and more if you’re looking for them – Must-Know Oxymorons to avoid confusion in English conversation. And the context for teaching these will be my childhood Christmas memories.

And yes, pretty ugly means fairly ugly, so not pretty at all.


Hi everybody! My name is Shana and this is the American English Podcast. My goal here is to teach you the English spoken in the United States. Through common expressions, pronunciation tips, and interesting cultural snippets or stories, I hope to keep this fun, useful and interesting. Let’s do it!


Hope you’re having a nice day wherever you are in the world. Today, you’ll learn 10 Must-Know Oxymorons to avoid confusion in conversation. The canvas for introducing these words will be a story about my Christmas memories.

As a native speaker, I love oxymorons. I think they’re funny, they’re playful, and they create a sort of richness to our speech, sort of how idioms do. So I’m happy to do this episode. These are the ones I think you really need to know, people use them regularly and yeah, they can be confusing.

So this lesson will have two parts. First, you will hear the story. It’s a casual story, but you’ll find all of the oxymorons in context. The reason I do this before teaching them is because I want it to be like real life. In real life, you’ll hear words in context because people are saying them, but you don’t necessarily know their meanings; You have to decipher the meaning based on what is happening in the story. So try to understand them on your own. And then at the very end, in part two of this lesson, I’m going to go through them. Now the tricky thing here, the challenge I have for you, is I want you to find ten of the 15 oxymorons in the story.

What should you look for?

As I mentioned in the introduction of this episode, an oxymoron contains two opposing or contradictory words. Remember? Pretty ugly.

If you’re at home, grab a pen and paper to take note of the terms you think are oxymorons. In part two, I’ll tell you all of the oxymorons that you heard and you can see how many you got right.

If you want the full list of definitions and example sentences, be sure to sign up to premium content that goes along with this audio. With Season 4, you’ll get the bonus material for episodes 151 to 200. Each episode comes with the transcript so you can read along with everything I say, a quiz, definitions of words and phrases, as well as the premium podcast player to practice your pronunciation. You can find the link to Season 4 in the episode notes.

Now let’s begin with the story. I know that some of you don’t celebrate Christmas, but bear with me. I’ll teach new vocabulary as it progresses.


In the United States, Christmas is on the 25th of December, not on the 24th like much of the world. December 24th for us is Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas, the day the kids put out their cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and many religious groups go to church.

Don’t get me wrong, most families who celebrate Christmas also celebrate on the 24th too, especially if relatives live nearby. I, like my friends, grew up celebrating on the 24th and the 25th, one day for my mom’s side of the family, one day for my dad’s. We’ll start by talking about the celebration at my dad’s parents’ house.

As a kid, Christmas at my grandparents’ house, my dad’s parents, was so exciting, and it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was so exciting about it. Perhaps it was the feeling, the lights, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin playing from their stereo system. Maybe it was walking through the front door in my new Christmas dress and seeing all of the presents carefully wrapped under the tree.


That’s it for the free part of this transcript. For the vocabulary, definitions, quiz, full transcript and more, be sure to sign up to Season 4.