What is a Paraprosdokian?
Are You a Logophile or Lexophile?
Logophiles and lexophiles love words, and paraprosdoikans are a form of wordplay.
Did you know that logophile and lexophile are seldom included in dictionaries? A few dictionaries have logophile, but lexophile is rarely, if ever, included. The lovers of wordplay have coined these words for their own entertainment. Both of these words mean "a lover of words."
What is the difference between a logophile or a lexophile? Both words include the Greek word “philia” which means love or affection.
- The logo part of logophile comes from the Greek word logos which means "word."
- The lexo in lexophile comes from the Greek word lexikos which means “of words.”
The difference between these two words is very subtle.
- A logophile is one who finds pleasure in the nuances of different words, and who is alert to synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homonyms, often using them for effect and often in humor.
- A lexophile is one who loves to play with words using them in in unique ways, for instance, in word games, puzzles, anagrams, palindromes, etc.
Just for fun, please take this poll.
Are you a
What Are Paraprosdokians?
It must have been a lexophile who coined the word paraprosdokian. It is a derivative of a Greek word that means “beyond expectations.” It refers to a sentence with an unexpected shift in meaning accomplished with puns, misdirection, deliberate misunderstandings, and witty juxtaposition for humorous effect.
Fair warning: Some of these are very corny.
Paraprosdokiansis are a favorite of comedians who deliver “one-liners,” jokes which require only a single sentence. Perhaps the most famous example of this comes from the comedian, Henry Youngman (1906-1998), who was famous for his one-liners. He said:
—Take my wife …. Please.
Initially, it seems Mr.Youngman means to use his wife as an example to illustrate his point, but the unexpected “please” at the end changes the meaning of “take my wife.” Now it literally means “take my wife” as in “take her away—you can have her; I don’t want her.”
The comic effect occurs because the reader or listener must reinterpret the first part of the sentence to accommodate the double meaning of the latter part of the sentence. It takes advantage of the fact that one word can have different meanings in different contexts.
I’m going to analyze the techniques used to create paraprosdokians and give examples of each. In the strictest sense, paraprosdokians rely on the manipulations of the meanings of words although it appears that the definition has stretched to include pithy wry observations.
The Use of Homonyms
Sometimes they rely on homonyms—words that sound alike and are spelled alike, but have more than one meaning.
—A boiled egg is hard…. to beat.
In the above example, there are two puns. One reading of the phrase uses the word "hard" to mean firm or solid as in a hard-boiled egg and the word "beat" to mean come out ahead as in win a competition. The phrase means something like “A boiled egg tastes better than an egg cooked some other way.”
However, "hard" can also mean difficult and " to beat" an egg can also mean to stir it vigorously to liquefy it. Now the sentence means “It is very difficult to liquefy an egg that has already been cooked.”
We expected one meaning and got another. The unexpected switcharoo makes us laugh.
The Use of a Phrase Turned Into a Pun
Sometimes they rely on the type of pun where words in a phrase almost sound like another word or phrase.
—You can tune a piano…. but you can’t tuna fish."
In the above example, “tune a” refers to adjusting a piano so that it sounds the correct notes, but in the second half of the sentence the sound-alike word, “tuna”, is a type of fish. It’s a pun.
Here are some more of this type.
—The police at a daycare center had to deal with a child who was resisting a rest."
—When you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall."
The Use of Homophones
Homophones are words that sound the same as other words with different spellings and meanings. Some paraprosdokians rely on the type of pun that occurs when two entirely different words are pronounced the same.
"When she saw her first strand of grey hair, she wanted to dye."
If we substitute die for dye, the sentence has a whole new meaning. The sentence makes sense either way, but the meaning is entirely different. Does the lady wish to apply haircoloring or does she wish to end her life?
The Use of Double-Meanings
Sometimes they rely on using a word in one context, but then switching to a different context which subtly changes the meaning of the word.
—This guy fell into an upholstery machine and now he’s fully recovered."
The word "recovered" means different things in different contexts. Someone who falls and injures himself is said to have recovered when his injury is healed. A sofa that is reupholstered is re-covered with new fabric.
—He had a photographic memory, but he never developed it.
The word "developed" has different meanings in different contexts. When we think of photography, developed means the application of chemicals to film to reveal the picture. But when someone has a talent that they don’t try to maximize, for instance, an excellent memory, we say that they have a talent that is un-developed.
Here’s another in this vein.
—A young man had his entire left side cut-off. He’s all right now.
The Use of Several Techniques at Once
Some paraprosdokians use more than one technique. They can use several hmonymns, homophones, and words with different meanings in different contexts to change the meaning of the sentence.
—When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.
In the example above, the word "four" can also be spelled as "for" which will change the meaning of the sentence. Additionally, the word "second" is a homonym because it can mean a unit of time or the ordinal number that comes after "first."
So the sentence seems to mean that the clock went back four seconds in time. But wait, what does this have to do with being hungry? We then realize that the clock returned for an additional serving of the entrée.
—A bicycle can’t stand alone. It’s just too tired.
Is the bicycle too weary to stand by itself or can it not stand because it has only two tires? A change in the spelling of the word "too" and a change in the meaning of the word "tired" creates the joke.
The Use of Common Sayings
Sometimes they take a common saying or proverb, and give it a surprising twist by changing the meaning of the words.
—Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
You surely recognized that as playing off of, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
Here are a few more
—Two wrongs don't make a right—but three lefts do.
—Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
—I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.
What Other Tricks Do Paraprosdokians Use?
Sometimes they are based on a deliberate misunderstanding of the intent of the sentence that sets up the joke.
—When I fill out an application, in the part that says "In an emergency, notify . . . ," I put "doctor."
—I saw a woman wearing a sweat shirt with "Guess" written on it...so I said "Implants?"
—When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department usually uses water.
—A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.
Sometimes they negate the first part of the sentence with the second part of the sentence.
—The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.
—I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
Do Paraprosdokians Have to Use Wordplay?
Sometimes they include sentences that do not use wordplay in the strictest sense. They often rely on redefining words in a witty way or making wry observations with unexpected conclusions. It's a paraprosdokian as long as it has a twist to it.
—Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?
—Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
—Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
—Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
—If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
—Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
—The evening news is where they begin with "Good Evening," and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.
—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.
—Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.
—A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.
—I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
—I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.
—To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
—Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
—A diplomat is someone who tells you to go to Hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.
—Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.
—The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
What Are Some Paraprosdokians from Famous People?
"You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing...after they have tried everything else." —Winston Churchill
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx
“This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I don't know.” —Groucho Marx
“If I could say a few words, I would be a better public speaker.”—Homer Simpson (cartoon character)
“War does not determine who is right — only who is left.” — Bertrand Russell
“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.” — Wilson Mizner
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Catherine Giordano