Tuesday 7 June 2011

Paraprosdokian? A skin rash needing some ointment?

Apparently not. According to Urban Dictionary, this is figure of speech in which a sentence or phrase has an unexpected or surprising ending. As I scratch my head, I realise some examples are in order.

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

Wikipedia tries to explain the word's etymology. "Paraprosdokian" comes from Greek "παρά-", meaning "despite" 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.

Wikipedia has some examples:

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

There but for the grace of God — goes God.
- Winston Churchill

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

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 Phillips

If I could say a few words, I'd be a better public speaker.
- Homer Simpson

I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long.
- Mitch Hedberg

I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night.
- Bill Hicks

The examples are funny but the word?
Bill Casselman is a Canadian author and broadcaster who has written a number of radio and TV shows about comedy and linguistics. He has a 400-page web site chock full of gems about his explorations of the English language as found in Canada. In an article entitled "The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian and Lazy Con Artists of Academe", he goes through the dubious origins of this official sounding word. In his opinion, this word is a modern invention and a bad one at that.

The word paraprosdokian appears NOWHERE in ancient Greek literature. It was NEVER an ancient Greek word. Prosdokia is a Greek feminine noun. Yes, its accusative case is, in the singular, prosdokian. But why would an accusative case be used as a nominative presentation form? Why is EVERY OTHER GREEK NOUN used as a term in rhetoric in a nominative form: i.e. tmesis, syncope, litotes, etc. etc., but this one exception is in the accusative case?

The word paraprosdokian was made up by some semiliterate doofus late in the 20th century, then added to lists of rhetorical terms at universities whose departments of classics must have been staffed by brain-dead sluggards and mummified pedagogues.

Internet Buzzword
Mr. Casselman points out that the word seems to have taken off in popularity and on that basis, is probably here to stay whether the purists like it or not. Whatever the case, there is no denying that the figure of speech the word is trying to encapsulate is one of immensely amusing results.

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 my list.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.

Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says, 'In case of emergency, notify:' I put 'DOCTOR.'

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

Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

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

A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

I asked God for a new car, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a car, and asked for forgiveness.

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

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

There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

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

You're never too old to learn something stupid.

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

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

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

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

Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.

I always take life with a grain of salt. Plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

Final Word
Bill Casselman defines the word, gives examples to show its meaning, then goes about dissecting its etymology to conclude this is a made-up word of the most dubious of origins. As he so amusingly concludes: Now, certainly, there are sentences and phrases with surprise endings. Educated people call these: "sentences with surprise endings."

Whatever you want to call it, word or no word, the above examples are pretty darn funny.


Wikipedia: Paraprosdokian
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.

Wikipedia: Bill Casselman
William Gordon Casselman (born Dunnville, Ontario, Canada) is a Canadian writer and broadcaster. He has written a number of books about Canadian words and produced a number of radio and TV shows featuring comedy and linguistics. Bill Casselman is an active writer still. On May 10, 2011 Bill completed his 14th book and has submitted it to an American publisher. Bill Casselman has a 400-page website about English etymology at http://www.billcasselman.com. The additions were written here by Bill Casselman himself.

official web site: Bill Casselman

Bill Casselman: The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian and Lazy Con Artists of Academe
I object to ... the attempt by lackadaisical, slipshod scholarship to claim that the word paraprosdokian is a term in classical rhetoric or to insist that it is a valid rhetorical label sanctioned by centuries of scholarly use. It is no such thing, as I prove below.


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