This figure of speech — sometimes characterized as “bait and switch” — came up in conversation with Don Steiny on Sunday. It seems not to have been discussed on this blog or Language Log.

From Wikipedia:

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. [So it’s significant that Don does standup comedy.]

… “Paraprosdokian” comes from Greek “παρά”, meaning “against” and “προσδοκία”, meaning “expectation”. Canadian linguist and etymology author William Gordon Casselman argues that, while the word is now in wide circulation, “paraprosdokian” (or “paraprosdokia”) is not a term of classical (or medieval) Greek or Latin rhetoric, but a late 20th-century neologism.

Two famous examples, from among many examples on Wikipedia:

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

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

Don later e-mailed me about the animated cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle, which he much admires:

I remember one joke that I’ll never forget.  Rocky and Bullwinkle were walking along and the narrator said “meanwhile, our two heroes are bewildered and confused.”  Rocky looked towards the “camera” and said “No we’re not, we’re Rocky and Bullwinkle.”  That is two jokes in one.  A paraprosdokian and stepping out of the frame. Or better, stepping out of the frame to make a paraprosdokian joke.

The whole show was stuff like that.

Indeed. I’ve posted twice about R&B:

A brief piece of 12/20/11 on “Wossamotta U” (link)

A longer piece of 8/14/13 on “Moose plates”, including an extended appreciation of the show (link)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: