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A paraprosdokian (/pærəprɒsˈdkiən/) 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[1] such as Groucho Marx. It is synonymous with Par'hyponoian.


"Paraprosdokian" comes from the Greek "παρά", meaning "against", and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation".[2][3] The noun "prosdokia" 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."[4][5][6][7] These four sources are cited under "prosdokia" in Liddell-Scott-Jones, Greek Lexicon.[8]

While the word is now in wide circulation, "paraprosdokian" (or "paraprosdokia") is not a term of classical (or medieval) Greek or Latin rhetoric; it was first attested in 1896.[9][10]

Double meaning[edit]

Some paraprosdokians do not only change the meaning of an early phrase, as in 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".[11]: 88  Note the ambiguity of the Hebrew lexical item גמור gamúr: it means both "complete" and "finished".[11]: 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."[11]: 88 


  • "Take my wife—please!" —Henny Youngman[12][13]
  • "If I could just say a few words … I'd be a better public speaker." —Homer Simpson[14]
  • "If I am reading this graph correctly—I'd be very surprised." —Stephen Colbert[15]
  • "If all the girls attending the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised." —Dorothy Parker[16][17]
  • "On his feet he wore … blisters." —Aristotle[18]
  • "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx[19][20][21]
  • "To wives and sweethearts! May they never meet." — Traditional toast made by Royal Navy officers.[22]
  • "My uncle's dying wish was to have me sit in his lap; he was in the electric chair." —Rodney Dangerfield[23]
  • "I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don't know I'm using blanks." —Emo Philips[19]
  • "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." —Mitch Hedberg[10][24]
  • "I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night." —Bill Hicks[10][25]
  • "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." —Will Rogers[26]
  • "On the other hand, you have different fingers." —Steven Wright[12]
  • "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[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Ph.D, Rod L. Evans (June 5, 2012). Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams, and Other Delightful and Outrageous Wordplay. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-58863-5.
  3. ^ "Paraprosdokian - Definition and Examples of Paraprosdokian". Literary Devices. May 18, 2014. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  4. ^ Demetrius. Roberts, W. Ryhs (ed.). Demetrius On Style, The Greek text of Demetrius De Elocutione. BiblioBazaar. para. 153. ISBN 978-1-113-67981-9.
  5. ^ Hermogenes (2005). "34. On Speaking in Comic Style". On Method of Forceful Speaking. Vol. Invention and Method. Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-1-58983-121-6.
  6. ^ Tiberius (Rhetor.). De Figuris (in Latin). Nabu Press. para. 16. ISBN 978-1-141-72928-9.
  7. ^ Philodemus. Indelli, Giovanni; Tsouna-McKirahan, Voula (eds.). On Choices and Avoidances (in Italian). Bibliopolis. para. 19 ASIN B001MHLUF4.
  8. ^ Liddell-Scott-Jones (1958). A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford. p. 1507.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b c Lundin, Leigh (January 30, 2011). "Paraprosdokia". The A.D.D. Detective. Criminal Brief. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2020). Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199812790.
  12. ^ a b "Paraprosdokians". Away With Words. February 9, 2012. Archived from the original on February 28, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  13. ^ Gottesman, Kyra (June 15, 2019). "It's a figure of speech | Off the Record". Chico Enterprise-Record. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  14. ^ Howard, Gregory (January 11, 2010). Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms. Xlibris. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-4500-2029-9.[self-published source]
  15. ^ Mills, Michael (2010). Concise Handbook of Literary and Rhetorical Terms. Estep-Nicoles Publishing. ISBN 978-0-615-27136-1.
  16. ^ Norwich, John Julius (2019). The Ultimate Christmas Cracker. John Murray Press. ISBN 978-1-5293-2491-4.
  17. ^ Frizzelle, Christopher (August 22, 2019). "Happy Birthday, Dorothy Parker". The Stranger. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ a b LaPointe, Leonard L. (September 2009). "Figaro and paraprosdokian". Journal of Medical Speech – Language Pathology. Archived from the original on January 9, 2011.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Bradley, Patricia (September 3, 2019). "What Do You Do With A Paraprosdokian?". Learn How to Write a Novel. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  22. ^ "'Our wives and sweethearts' Naval toast rewritten". BBC News. June 22, 2013. Retrieved May 24, 2024.
  23. ^ Baumann, Jim (March 28, 2020). "Grammar Moses: It's not a pickup line, it's a paraprosdokian". Daily Herald. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  24. ^ Zorn, Eric (April 4, 2005). "Fine Lines: Mitch Hedberg". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  25. ^ "List of 20 Paraprosdokians: Sentences with a twist". India Today. New Delhi. August 17, 2016. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  26. ^ Andrews, Dale C. (April 24, 2012). "Paraprosdokia". Sleuthsayers. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  27. ^ O'Toole, Garson (September 8, 2010). "Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man's Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It's Too Dark to Read". Quote Investigator. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  28. ^ O'Toole, Garson (2017). Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations. Amazon Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5039-3340-8.

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