paraprosdokian

A paraprosdokian, according to Wikipedia, is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a phrase or sentence is a surprise, a twist, unexpected, and causes the listener to then reinterpret the first part of the phrase. It is a phrase with an abrupt change in direction at the end. For example,  “I’ve had a perfectly lovely evening, but this wasn’t it,” said Groucho Marx. Sometimes the latter part of the phrase not only changes the interpretation of the first part, but also plays on the double meaning of a word.  For example, “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana”.

George H., an extremely erudite ASE reader, introduced me to this word, and while I doubt I’ll ever be able to pronounce it well enough to use it in a conversation, I was fascinated by its meaning.  It is Greek in origin and the combination of Greek words that literally means ‘against expectation’. Its earliest known appearance in print was 1891 so it is not a classical Greek or Latin term. While a legitimate word, it has not yet made an appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Frequent users of paraprosdokians are comedians, satirists and Winston Churchill.  One that most people have heard is from Henny Youngman “Now, you take my wife…PLEASE!”.  One of Winston Churchill’s best known ones is “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing…after they have tried everything else.”

Just for fun, here are some more examples:

“I once shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know”.  Groucho Marx

“Where there’s a will, I want to be in it”.

“He taught me housekeeping; when we divorce I keep the house.”  Zsa Zsa Gabor

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.”

“The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

“Making predictions is hard, especially if you are talking about the future.” Groucho Marx

“War doesn’t determine who is right, only who is left.”

“Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.”