What in the World is a Paraprosdokian?

Recently I received an email from a dear friend in David, depicting an explanation for a strange English word and several examples of how the term was used.  It was the first time I had seen such a word.  Initially I thought it was a Greek word, but never an English expression.

Since I’m a curious person, I Googled the word and found that it was indeed a legitimate English word.  The word is paraprosdokian.  What is its meaning you might ask?  This is what I found:

“A paraprosdokian, meaning ‘beyond’ and ‘expectation’ sentence, is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or reinterpret the first part. 

It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.  For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.” 

According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, “Paraprosdokian” comes from Greek “παρά“, meaning “against” and “προσδοκία“, meaning “expectation”. Canadian linguist and etymology author William Gordon Casselman argues that, while the word is now in wide circulation, “paraprosdokian” (or “paraprosdokia”) is not a term of classical (or medieval) Greek or Latin rhetoric, but a late 20th century neologism.  However, it occurs—with the same meaning—in Greek rhetorical writers of the 1st century BCE and the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.

Below are several examples of a paraprosdokian.  Oh, before I forget, Winston Churchill liked to use these humorous expressions quite often.   Here we go.

  1. “Take my wife – please!” — Henry Youngman
  2. “He was at his best when the going was good.” — Alistair Cooke in the Duke of Windsor
  3. “You can always count on the Americans to do the right—after they have tried everything else.”  Winston Churchill
  4. “On his feet he wore…blisters.” — Aristotle
  5. “A modest man, who has much to be modest about.” — supposedly Winston Churchill, about Clement Attlee
  6. “She was good as cooks go, and as cooks go she went.” — Saki
  7. “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” —Will Rogers
  8. “If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.” — Homer Simpson
  9. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  10. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.
  11. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  12. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
  13. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
  14. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  15. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  16. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
  17. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.
  18. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
  19. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
  20. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one now.
  21. Do not argue with an idiot.  He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
  22. Light travels faster than sound.  This is why some people seem bright until you hear them speak.
  23. Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening,’ and then try to tell you why it isn’t.
  24. Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it  back.
  25. Hospitality:  making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.
  26. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they  go.
  27. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  28. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
  29. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
  30. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. My desk is a work station.

And now you know why I say that English is a tough cookie to learn.  Good Day.

4 thoughts on “What in the World is a Paraprosdokian?”

  1. I think I’ve seen the word – or perhaps not. What I do know is that whenever I come across sayings like those you’ve quoted, they always make me smile.

    There are several here I’ve not heard, and I enjoyed them tremendously. I’m rather fond of “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

    Thanks for starting my morning with a smile!

  2. Morning Linda:

    As I study the English language, I’m having more fun than ever. Never thought I would enjoy it that much.

    I’m glad I was able to put a smile on your face this morning.

    Enjoy the rest of the day.


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