12 July 2013


According to Wikipedia, paraprosdokian refers to “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.”  Paraprosdokians (derived from the Greek for ‘against expectations’) can be humorous, surprising, or even shocking; they can be used just to elicit laughter or to make a serious point.  It’s supposed to have been a favorite device of Winston Churchill, who certainly contributed many to the lexicon of paraprosdokians, and many of his and other people’s expressions have passed into common use.  Just for the fun of it, I’ve assembled a collection of random examples from various sources.  As you can see, the style of paraprosdokians varies as widely as the personas of the authors, from light and frivolous to complex and even sneaky.

I’m sure ROT readers, as cleaver and articulate as you all are, can add to this list, and I invite you to devise your own as well as quoting ones I haven’t thought of.

So, in no particular order, a collection of paraprosdokians:

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way.  So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

My father said, “I’ll miss you, son,” because I’d broken the sights off his rifle.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right, only who is left.

The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says, “If an emergency, notify:” I put “Doctor”.

I didn’t say it was your fault.  I said I was blaming you.

Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for President and fifty for Miss America?

Behind every successful man is his woman.  Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive.  You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

The voices in my head may not be real, but they have good ideas.

Some people hear voices.  Some see invisible people.  Others have no imagination whatsoever.

Always borrow money from a pessimist.  He won’t expect it back.

Hospitality is making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

I used to be indecisive.  Now I’m not sure.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember the fire department usually uses water.

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and name whatever you hit the target.

Sometimes I wonder why that Frisbee keeps getting bigger.  Then it hits me.

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

A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do some people have more than one child?

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”  —Oscar Wilde

I saw a woman wearing a sweat shirt with “Guess” on it, so I said, “36C?”

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism.  To steal from many is research.

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening,’ and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

A bus station is where a bus stops.  A train station is where a train stops.  On my desk, I have a work station.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

I thought I wanted a career; turns out I just wanted paychecks.

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

A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

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

I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lime… and a shot of tequila.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

Light travels faster than sound.  This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

“To Clayton Rawson, a man after my own heart . . . with a knife.”  —Attributed to Robert Bloch (American writer; 1917-94)

"Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy.  I keep it in a jar on my desk.”  Robert Bloch; often quoted by Stephen King

“Men do make passes at girls who wear glasses . . . it depends on their frames.”  —Groucho Marx

“He was at his best when the going was good.”  —Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor

“If I am reading this graph correctly— I’d be very surprised.”  —Stephen Colbert

“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing— after they have tried everything else.”    —Winston Churchill

“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 (reportedly about Clement Atlee)

“She looks as though she’s been poured into her clothes, and forgot to say ‘when’.”  —P. G. Wodehouse

“I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks.”  —Emo Philips (American comedian)

“I haven’t slept for two weeks, because that would be too long.”  —Mitch Hedberg (American comedian; 1968-2005)

“I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night.”  —Bill Hicks

“If I could say a few words, I’d be a better public speaker.”  —Homer Simpson (yes, that Homer Simpson)

“My family held a wonderful leaving party for me … according to the letter.”  —Emo Philips

“My father said, ‘I’ll miss you, son,’ because I’d broken the sights off his rifle.”  —Emo Philips

I discovered I scream the same way whether I’m about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.

Do not argue with an idiot.  He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

The secret to success is knowing who to blame for your failures.

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

Some places remain unknown because no one has ventured forth.  Others remain so because no one has ever come back.

It's lonely at the top, but it's comforting to look down upon everyone at the bottom.

“I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she left me before we met.”  —Steven Wright (American comedian)

“Everyone has a photographic memory.  Some just don't have film.”  —Steven Wright

“I bought a black and white dog, because the license was cheaper.”  —Steven Wright

“Yesterday I saw a subliminal advertising executive . . . just for a second.”  —Steven Wright

“It's a small world, but I'd hate to have to paint it.”  —Steven Wright

“I once played poker with Tarot cards.  I got a full house and three people died.”  —Steven Wright

You don't have to floss every single one of your teeth . . . just the ones you want to keep.

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter.  Someday I intend reading it.

“I spilled spot remover on my dog.  Now he's gone.”  —Steven Wright

“I live at the end of a one-way dead-end street.  I don't know how I got there.”  —Steven Wright

“For my birthday I got a humidifier and a de-humidifier.  I put them in the same room and let them fight it out.”  —Steven Wright

“I installed a skylight in my apartment.  The people above me are furious!”  —Steven Wright

“What's another word for Thesaurus?”  —Steven Wright

If it weren’t for the gutter, my mind would be homeless.

I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

Silence is golden.  Duct tape is silver.

I know karate . . . and two other Japanese words.

Some people are like Slinkies.  They’re not really good for anything, but they still make you smile when you push them down a flight of stairs.

Of course I don’t look busy.  I did it right the first time.

“Now don't say you can't swear off drinking; it's easy.  I've done it a thousand times.”  —W. C. Fields

I like children . . . parboiled!  —Paraphrased from W. C. Fields

“I am free of all prejudice.  I hate everyone equally.”  —W. C. Fields

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house unless they have a well-stocked bar.“  —W. C. Fields

“I exercise extreme self-control.  I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.“  —W. C. Fields

“How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil's Brew.  I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon--and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.”  —W. C. Fields

“A woman drove me to drink, and I'll be a son-of-a-gun but I never even wrote to thank her.”  —W. C. Fields

“Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much.”  —Oscar Wilde

I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.”  Oscar Wilde

Women are made to be loved, not understood.”  Oscar Wilde

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.”  Oscar Wilde

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”  —Oscar Wilde

“I can resist everything but temptation.”  Oscar Wilde

“Men always want to be a woman's first love - women like to be a man's last romance.”  Oscar Wilde

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”  George Bernard Shaw

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig.  You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”  George Bernard Shaw

“Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”  George Bernard Shaw

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”  George Bernard Shaw

“If you're going through hell, keep going.”  Winston Churchill

“I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”  Winston Churchill

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”  Winston Churchill

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”  Winston Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  Winston Churchill

“A joke is a very serious thing.”  Winston Churchill

“A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.  And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.”  Winston Churchill

“Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.”  Jim Carrey

“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. . . .  And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.”  Ron White (American comedian)

“Do not take life too seriously.  You will never get out of it alive.”  Elbert Hubbard (American writer; 1856-1915)

“I feel sorry for people who don't drink.  When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.”  Frank Sinatra

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”  Steve Martin

“As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”  Buddy Hackett

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”  Mark Twain

“Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.”  Mae West

“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  Isaac Asimov

“Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?”  Phyllis Diller

“Any girl can be glamorous.  All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”  Hedy Lamarr (American film actress; 1913-2000) 

“I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”  Lily Tomlin

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the hell she is.”  Ellen DeGeneres

“A woman's mind is cleaner than a man's: She changes it more often.”  Oliver Herford (American writer; 1863–1935)

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you.”  Aldous Huxley

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  Socrates

“A fool flatters himself, a wise man flatters the fool.”  Edward Bulwer-Lytton (English novelist and playwright; 1803-73)

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  Nelson Mandela

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”  Abraham Maslow (American psychologist; 1908-70)

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.”  Robert Frost

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  Confucius

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  John Lennon

“Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.”  Anton Chekhov

“A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same.”  Elbert Hubbard

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”  Oprah Winfrey

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  —Irina Dunn (Australian educator, journalist and politician); quoted by Gloria Steinem

[There’s a wild and unending debate among academics, pseudo-academics, and language mavens (in other words, thumb-suckers and navel-gazers) about the provenance of the word paraprosdokian.  I won’t try to recap it here—it’s way out of my ballpark and far too tortuous to decipher—so I’ll let any reader who’s curious look it up on the ‘Net for yourself.  It’s practically everywhere if you just search for paraprosdokian—and who wouldn’t?  Knock yourselves out!]


1 comment:

  1. I recently watched an old Mae West movie on TV, 'I'm No Angel' (1933), co-starring a very young Cary Grant. West delivers one of her classic lines (she wrote the script) to Grant, and it's a perfect paraprosdokian: "When I'm good, I'm very good. But, when I'm bad . . . I'm better."