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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

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