A paraprosdokian (//) is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe 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 such as Groucho Marx.
"Paraprosdokian" comes from the Greek "παρά", meaning "against" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation". The term "prosdokia" ("expectation") occurs with the preposition "para" in Greek rhetorical writers of the 1st century BCE and the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, with the meaning "contrary to expectation" or "unexpectedly." These four sources are cited under "prosdokia" in Liddell-Scott-Jones, Greek Lexicon. 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, citing the fact that the word does not yet appear in the Oxford English Dictionary as evidence of its late coinage. However, the word appeared in print as early as 1891 in a humorous article in Punch: 'A "paraprosdokian," which delights him to the point of repetition.'
Some paraprosdokians do not only change the meaning of an early phrase (see garden-path sentence), but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis or antanaclasis (a type of pun). For example, in response to the question "how are you two?", a Modern Hebrew speaker can say בסדר גמור; היא בסדר, אני גמור be-séder gamúr; i be-séder, aní gamúr, literally "in-order complete; she in-order, I complete", i.e. "We are very good. She is good, I am finished".:88 Note the ambiguity of the Hebrew lexical item גמור gamúr: it means both "complete" and "finished".:88 A parallel punning paraprosdokian in English is a man's response to a friend's question Why are you and your wife here?: A workshop; I am working, she is shopping.:88
- "Take my wife—please!" —Henny Youngman
- "There but for the grace of God—goes God." —Winston Churchill
- "If I could just say a few words… I'd be a better public speaker." —Homer Simpson
- "If I am reading this graph correctly—I'd be very surprised." —Stephen Colbert
- "On his feet he wore…blisters." —Aristotle
- "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx
- "I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don't know I'm using blanks." —Emo Philips
- "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." —Mitch Hedberg
- "I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night." —Bill Hicks
- "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." —Will Rogers
- "On the other hand, you have different fingers." —Steven Wright
- "He was at his best when the going was good." —Alistair Cooke
- "Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read." —Jim Brewer, sometimes attributed to Groucho Marx
- Ament, Ernest; Scaife, Ross (December 22, 2004). "A Glossary of Rhetorical Terms with Examples". Lexington: University of Kentucky, Wayne State University. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- Demetrius. Roberts, W. Ryhs (ed.). Demetrius On Style, The Greek text of Demetrius De Elocutione. BiblioBazaar. para. 153. ISBN 978-1-113-67981-9.
- Hermogenes. "34. On Speaking in Comic Style". On Method of Forceful Speaking. Invention and Method. Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-1-58983-121-6.
- Tiberius (Rhetor.). De Figuris (in Latin). Nabu Press. para. 16. ISBN 978-1-141-72928-9.
- Philodemus. Indelli, Giovanni; Tsouna-McKirahan, Voula (eds.). On Choices and Avoidances (in Italian). Bibliopolis. para. 19 ASIN B001MHLUF4.
- Liddell-Scott-Jones (1958). A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford. p. 1507.
- Casselman, Bill (January 3, 2011). "The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian (and Lazy Con-Men of Academe)". The Perils of Rhetorical Nomenclature. Toronto: Casselmania: McArthur & Co. Archived from the original on May 25, 2016.
- Lundin, Leigh (January 30, 2011). "Paraprosdokia". The A.D.D. Detective. Criminal Brief. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Anonymous (August 8, 1891). "Voces Populi". Punch, or the London Charivari, p. 69.
- Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2020). Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199812790.
- "Paraprosdokians". Away With Words. February 9, 2012. Archived from the original on February 28, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
- Howard, Gregory (January 11, 2010). Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms. Xlibris. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-4500-2029-9.[self-published source]
- Mills, Michael (2010). Concise Handbook of Literary and Rhetorical Terms. Estep-Nicoles Publishing. ISBN 978-0-615-27136-1.
- Jost, Walter; Olmsted, Wendy (February 23, 2004). A companion to rhetoric and rhetorical criticism. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-4051-0112-7. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
- LaPointe, Leonard L. (September 2009). "Figaro and paraprosdokian". Journal of Medical Speech – Language Pathology. Archived from the original on January 9, 2011.
- Leighton, H. Vernon (2020). "A Theory of Humor (Abridged) and the Comic Mechanisms of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces". In Marsh, Leslie (ed.). Theology and Geometry: Essays on John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (Politics, Literature, & Film). United Kingdom: Lexington Books (published January 29, 2020). pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-1-4985-8547-7. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
it is useful to examine the famous paraprosdokian, ‘I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.’…Within the cognitive incongruity aspect of humor…Comedians often rely on shared knowledge with the audience to provide the second interpretation toward which the joke will pivot…As the paraprosdokian above illustrates, in some humor events, the brain begins tentatively to assign the event of one interpretation but then is forced in surprise to reassign the event to a second interpretation.
- Zorn, Eric (April 4, 2005). "Fine Lines: Mitch Hedberg". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Andrews, Dale C. (April 24, 2012). "Paraprosdokia". Sleuthsayers. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- Anonymous (September 8, 2010). "Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man's Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It's Too Dark to Read". Retrieved March 28, 2020.
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