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Have You Ever Heard of Paraprosdokians?

I don't remember ever hearing of a paraprosdokian until this past week. Three different readers, total strangers to each other, sent me an e-mail with a list of paraprosdokians, which were mostly the same, but with some differences. I did some searching to find out exactly what the word means. It comes from two Greek words — para which means "beyond" and prosdokia which means "expectation." Therefore a paraprosdokian is a sentence or several sentences which go beyond the expectations of the listener. In other words, the second part of the sentence or a phrase delivers something quite unexpected, often humorously anticlimactic.

picture of garden path

As we read or listen to what is being said, we unconsciously try to work out what is probably coming next. A good paraprosdokian sets up an expectation and then dashes it, causing confusion and making you review and rethink what has really been said. It's a technique known as "leading someone down the garden path." Many comedians and satirists use this figure of speech quite effectively.

Today I'll share some of the best paraprosdokians that came to me unattributed, followed by some uttered by several people well known for this type of figure of speech.

The car stopped on a dime, which unfortunately was in a pedestrian's pocket.

Where there's a will, I want to be in it.

Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, you will be a mile away and he won't have any shoes.

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

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

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.

Two guys walked into a bar. The third one ducked.

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

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

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

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 pay checks.

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

Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says in an emergency, notify, I put A DOCTOR.

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

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

Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?

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

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

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

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

Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

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.

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

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that 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 call whatever you hit the target.

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

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.


As promised, here are a few by some of the masters of the art. (Quoting them is not a wholesale endorsement.)

"I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers." — Bob Monkhouse

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate." — Henry J. Tillman

"The saying 'Getting there is half the fun' became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines." — Henry J. Tillman

"A fool and his money are soon elected." — Will Rogers

"Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven't had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln." — Will Rogers (Rob adds: Not to take away from Will Rogers's brilliant paraprosdokian, but ... for the sake of several history buffs who read my blog, Rogers must have made this statement before Harding was elected.)

"If I am reading this graph correctly, I would be very surprised." — Stephen Colbert

"There’s a bunch of different crunches that affect the abs … my favorite is Nestle." — Shmuel Breban

"When I was 10, I beat up the school bully. His arms were in casts. That's what gave me the courage." — Emo Philips

"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

"'The crows seemed to be calling his name,' thought Caw." — Jack Handey

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried." — Winston Churchill

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they've tried everything else."- Winston Churchill

"A modest man, who has much to be modest about." — Winston Churchill (said of Clement Attlee)

"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." — Groucho Marx

"She got her good looks from her father; he's a plastic surgeon." — Groucho Marx

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know." — Groucho Marx

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

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." — Groucho Marx


Those are types of things I like to use as "signature lines" at the end of my blog posts. Some of my readers will be delighted at a whole post of sig lines! Maybe you have a paraprosdokian you could add, along with your reactions, in the comments to this post.


"When we have freedom, we do the wrong thing." - Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Some people are like Slinkies — not really good for anything, but you can't help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

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18 Comments on “Have You Ever Heard of Paraprosdokians?”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Here’s another one of Groucho’s I just ran across this weekend:

    At a concert, a gentleman leans over and says, “I love good music.” Groucho replies, “I do too. Let’s get out of here.”

    Rob adds: LOL, Michael! Groucho just didn’t live long enough — I’m sure he would *never* have said that at one of *your* concerts. 😀

  2. #2 Michael
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 9:02 am

    The ones by Groucho Marx and Jack Handey are my favorites. I remember enjoying Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” from a few years ago.

    Rob adds: Ah yes, Handey’s “Deep Thoughts”….

  3. #3 Rebekah
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 9:26 am

    These quotes remind me of a favorite song, which I first heard sung by Mitch Miller and the Gang.

    There once was a farmer who took a young miss
    In back of the barn where he gave her a…
    Lecture on horses and chickens and eggs
    And told her that she had such beautiful…
    Manners that suited a girl of her charms
    A girl that he wanted to take in his…
    Washing and ironing and then if she did
    They would get married and raise lots of…
    Sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses
    Covered all over from head to toe
    Covered all over with sweet violets.

    The girl told the farmer that he’d better stop
    or she’d tell her father, and he’d call the…
    Taxi which got there before very long, ’cause
    Someone was doing his little girl…
    Right for a change and so that’s why he said
    If you marry her, son, you’re better off…
    Single, ‘Cause it’s always been my belief
    Marriage will bring a man nothing but…
    Sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses
    Covered all over from head to toe
    Covered all over with sweet violets.

    The farmer decided to wed anyway,
    And started in planning for his wedding…
    Suit which he purchased for only one buck
    But then he found out he was just out of…
    Money and so he got left in the lurch
    A standin’ and waitin’ in front of the…
    End of the story which just goes to show
    All a girl wants from a man is his…
    Sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses
    Covered all over from head to toe
    Covered all over with sweet violets.

    Rob adds: Thanks, Rebekah, for Sweet Violets. That whole song is definitely “garden path” material.

  4. #4 Steve Coon
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    iv’s can save your life, but these are killers!

    Rob adds: Steve, I’m not sure those are encouraging words from a recovering lawyer…. 😀

  5. #5 Tony
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 10:17 am

    A couple of my favorites:

    “Some people aren’t appreciated until after they’re gone, so I’d appreciate it very much if you’d leave.”

    “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving might not be for you.”

    Rob adds: Good ones, Tony! I hope we see more of these in the comments.

  6. #6 Janet
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you! I’d give you a great big Kiss, but I ate it on the way home from the store!

    Rob adds: I’m speechless…. And it’s probably a good thing. 🙂

  7. #7 Vikki
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    A friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though you’re slightly cracked.

    Dalmatians can’t play hide and seek, because they are always spotted.

    Did you hear about the first meeting of the new Workaholics Anonymous group? No one came – they were all too busy.

    Did you hear about the new group for compulsive talkers? It’s called On-and-on-Anon.

    I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.

    If you have too much time on your hands … can you save some for later?

    Rob adds: Good job, Vikki! 😀

  8. #8 JohnMatzko
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.

    Rob adds: Your mom, who is my oldest reader, might say something motherwise…. 😉

  9. #9 JohnMatzko
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    A related construction is a semantic zeugma: “She left in a huff and in a Cadillac.”

    Zeugmas are fine when intended as humor, but sometimes in student writing they’re not: “She was pregnant and the granddaughter of a former Tennessee governor.”

    Rob adds: I saw zeugmas, in fact, as I did research on paraprosdokians. Also syllepses. That sentence in your student writing was definitely pregnant with meaning, John.

  10. #10 Richard
    on Sep 20th, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    A little different takeoff from Tony’s that a college friend used to say: “Next time you are passing by, I would appreciate it!”

    Rob adds: Good one, Richard. My dad always used to say, “Don’t go away mad. Just go away.”

  11. #11 Katie
    on Sep 21st, 2010 at 4:33 pm

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

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

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

    Whenever you read a good book, it’s like the author is right there in the room talking to you, which is why I don’t like to read good books.

    Rob adds: Good ones, Katie! Thanks for adding them.

  12. #12 Carrie
    on Sep 21st, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I love these! Thanks! One of my favorites is the one about fruit flies. Go, Groucho!

    Rob adds: That one is a classic of Groucho’s. Love the pictures of baby Philip on your blog. 🙂

  13. #13 Bruce
    on Sep 22nd, 2010 at 9:25 am

    New reader. Love the knowledge and wisdom one. Here are a couple more of my favorites:

    Always remember – everyone of us is someone else’s weirdo.

    The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

    Never do anything you wouldn’t want to explain to the paramedics.

    Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7th of your life.

    Rob adds: I like them all, Bruce. I have to take exception to the last one, though. When my students tell me they hate Mondays, I always say, “It’s sad to hate 1/7th of your life.”

  14. #14 Laura Brenneman
    on Sep 22nd, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Rob, that was one of my favorite posts!

    Rob adds: Glad you enjoyed it, Laura!

  15. #15 Marilyn
    on Sep 27th, 2010 at 7:45 am

    So far the online pronunciation guides have given me

    para pros doc Eon
    para prus DOE key’n
    para pross dok EE an
    para prozz dok EE an

    This ‘instant vacation’ has become an obsessive paraprosdokian pursuit. I only thought I had better things to do with my time.

    Rob adds: Marilyn, just think of how much more you will know now! My blog is not just mindless stuff, is it? 😉

  16. #16 Poppy
    on Sep 28th, 2010 at 6:38 am

    My first visit – would like to share my fave:

    “I love kids, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.”

    Rob adds: I’ve heard people say, “I could just eat you up,” to cute little kids. In fact my one grandma used to say that as she kissed her grandkids, now that I think of it. But she never carried through with it.

  17. #17 S. Grace Stevens
    on Oct 18th, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Seeing the lyrics to “Sweet Violets” reminded me that I’ve been trying to find a poetic satire on “Hiawatha” that begins,

    On the shores of Gitchigoome, by the waters of the sea,
    Thy father King Kolumah and thy mother long for thee…

    From cannibal parents to their son, a sophomore at Yale. Anyone know where I could find the whole text?

    Blessings, SGS

    Rob adds: I read the Hiawatha poem in my student days, but the satirical version is a new one to me. Hope you can find it.

  18. #18 Julie Rich
    on Oct 30th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Here’s one for you: One good turn gets all the blankets! (This was taken from a comic strip called Pluggers.) 😉

    Rob adds: Good one, Julie! Thanks for adding it to the mix.