The word “paraprosdokain” is derived from Greek meaning “against expectations,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In our speech and writing, this figure of speech, in which the latter part of the passage is surprising or unexpected, is used for dramatic or humorous effect. It can cause the listener or reader to go back and re-interpret the first part.
Paraprosdokains have been around since ancient times. Aristotle once said, "On his feet he wore…blisters."
Some are part of the common lexicon.
“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.”
“There are three kinds of people in the world—those who can count and those who can’t.”
“Things are never so bad they can’t get worse.”
Our most popular comedians often use paraprosdokains to great effect. One of the best known is Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife. Please!”
“When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.” –Rodney Dangerfield
"Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read."—Jim Brewer
“It isn’t the ups and downs that make life difficult; it’s the jerks.”—Charlie Chaplin
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx
“The company accountant is shy and retiring. He’s shy a quarter of a million dollars. That’s why he’s retiring.”—Milton Berle
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”—Will Rogers
“I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like all the passengers in his car.”—Will Rogers
Politics can inspire paraprosdokains. Winston Churchill loved them.
“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”—Winston Churchill
“Men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”—Winston Churchill
“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they'd never expect it.” –Jack Handey
"I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." —Will Rogers
“War does not determine who is right — only who is left.” —Bertrand Russell
Popular media has given us some wonderful examples.
“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
“Her lips said ‘No,’ but her eyes said ‘Read my lips.’”—Frasier
Writers can use paraprosdokains to introduce a bit of humor or drama in their work.
And remember: You’re never too old to learn something stupid.