the king’s figure of speech

my eudora email client has been pulsing with electronic letters from a handful of friends, fake friends, and friends with hawt news about the rhetorical device known as the paraprosdokian. here’s what jimmy wales has to say about it »

A paraprosdokian 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.

blah blah blah, let’s get to some examples of paraporsdokia before we all fall asleep:

  • If I am reading this graph correctly—I’d be very surprised. —Stephen Colbert
  • If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. — Dorothy Parker
  • I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it. —Groucho Marx
  • A modest man, who has much to be modest about. —Winston Churchill
  • I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks. —Emo Phillips
  • If I could say a few words, I’d be a better public speaker. —Homer Simpson
  • I haven’t slept for two weeks, because that would be too long. —Mitch Hedberg

my conclusion: a paraprosdokian is a long word for a one-liner.


like the word ecdysiast, paraprosdokian is likely a modern greek neologism for a historical greek stimulus.