Word of the Month – April 2015

David Zapatka

Reader and fellow Wisdom Seeker book-reading club member, Margaret Simkins, suggested a very long yet interesting word many of us may not recognize but are likely familiar with when listening to comedians or satirists; paraprosdokian.

Paraprosdokian (/pærəprɒsˈdoʊkiən/) 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 re-interpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect sometimes producing an anticlimax. Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word.

Paraprosdokian comes from Greek “παρά”, meaning “against” and “προσδοκία”, meaning “expectation.” The term “prosdokia” (expectation) occurs with the preposition “para” in Greek rhetorical writers of the first century BC and the first and second centuries AD, with the meaning “contrary to expectation” or “unexpectedly.” These four sources are cited under “prosdokia” in Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon.

A few examples of paraprosdokians by famous politicians, comedians and a cartoon character:

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”–Groucho Marx

“If I am reading this graph correctly—I’d be very surprised.”–Stephen Colbert

“If I could just say a few words…I’d be a better public speaker.”–Homer Simpson

“I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”–Will Rogers

“That’s no lady, that’s my wife!”–Rodney Dangerfield

“On the other hand, you have different fingers.”–Steven Wright

A few examples of paraprosdokians, sources unknown:

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

We never really grow up. We only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right-only who is left.

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

Please submit any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to  [email protected]