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. Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis.
"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 magazine.
- "Take my wife—please!" —Henny Youngman
- "There but for the grace of God—goes God." —Winston Churchill on Stafford Cripps
- "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
- "A modest man, who has much to be modest about." —supposedly Winston Churchill, about Clement Attlee
- "I like going to the park and watching the children run around screaming, 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 on the Duke of Windsor
- Ament, Ernest; Scaife, Ross (2004-12-22). "A Glossary of Rhetorical Terms with Examples". Lexington: University of Kentucky, Wayne State University. Retrieved 2010-10-14.
- 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 (2011-01-03). "The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian (and Lazy Con-Men of Academe)". The Perils of Rhetorical Nomenclature. Toronto: Casselmania: McArthur & Co.
- Lundin, Leigh (2011-01-30). "Paraprosdokia". The A.D.D. Detective. Criminal Brief. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
- Anonymous (1891-08-08). "Voces Populi". Punch, or the London Charivari, p. 69.
- "Paraprosdokians". Away With Words. 2012-02-09. Archived from the original on 2015-02-28. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
- Howard, Gregory (2010-01-11). Dictionary of Rhetorical Terms. Xlibris. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-4500-2029-9.
- Mills, Michael (2010). Concise Handbook of Literary and Rhetorical Terms. Estep-Nicoles Publishing. ISBN 978-0-615-27136-1.
- Jost, Walter; Olmsted, Wendy (2004-02-23). A companion to rhetoric and rhetorical criticism. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-4051-0112-7. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- LaPointe, Leonard L. (September 2009). "Figaro and paraprosdokian". Journal of Medical Speech – Language Pathology.
- Zorn, Eric (April 4, 2005). "Fine Lines: Mitch Hedberg". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Andrews, Dale C. (April 24, 2012). "Paraprosdokia". Sleuthsayers. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
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