Weird Word to Love: Paraprosdokian

mitch_hedburg“I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.”
– Mitch Hedburg

I recently happened upon the word “Paraprosdokian“. And while I previously had no idea what the word meant, I did previously love what it defined.

Which is this:

A 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 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.

The essence of comedy is surprise.

In my kids, this takes the form of poorly-constructed lies.

“Did you eat all of your carrots?” I ask.

“I DID eat them all,” says my daughter.

“Then what are those?”

“Umbrellas!” she says, “Ha ha ha!”

But as we grow up, our jokes do too.

A man walked into a bar.

Ouch.

The beauty of the paraprosdokian is that it requires the listener to revisit the sentence in a new light. It is a very compact form of humor. And for a flash fiction writer like me, compact humor is key.

Here are a few examples:

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.

A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don’t need it.

And my favorite:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx

Do you have a favorite paraprosdokian to share?