Paraprosdokian, anyone?

Published 8:01 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend; inside of a dog it is too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx

Everybody knows I am a word person and those that know me well are aware that I tend to admire cleverness in most all of its forms, so I guess I was just pretty well destined to be a sucker for a good paraprosdokian.

Now, I have a longtime acquaintance who has been wont to accuse me of using “chicken—-” words just to prove I knew them, an accusation that is not entirely absent all foundation, but that is not what I am doing here.

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To the contrary, not only have I often “borrowed” the paraprosdokians originating with others, I have actually incorporated a few of my own coining within my various writings over the years.

But enough coyness. To those unfamiliar with the term (if not the thing itself), a paraprosdokian is sort of a linguistic “gotcha.” It is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprisingly unexpected in a way that causes its reader or listener to rethink the first part, and hence, to reinterpret the whole thing.

As I said, I am a fan of cleverness. And I am hardly alone in that. Some of the wittiest men and women of letters of this and the last century—particularly those with a satirical bent—are often  given credit (if not always accurately) for some of the better paraprosdokians that have been gaining new fame with the proliferation of the Internet into every nook  and cranny of human existence, and the late, great Sir. Winston Churchill was known to be particularly fond of them.

Paraprosdokians, like  many of life’s treasures, date all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and I have been collecting them for years because my daughter is quite right in her evaluation of me as “such an odd little man” and a longtime pal and  fellow word lover who manifests John Prine’s observation “all my friends turned out to be insurance salesmen” sent me some  more the other day, so I figure it is time to share.


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

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

• I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work like that, so I stole a bike and then asked God for forgiveness.

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

• No, I don’t agree with you. I could, but then we’d both be wrong.

• The last thing I want to do is hurt you—but it is still on the list.

• War does not determine who is right—only who is left.

• Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put one in a fruit salad.

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

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

• Why does someone believe you when you tell them that there are four billion stars, but check when you tell him that the paint is wet?

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

• A clear conscience is often the sign of a bad memory.

• Contrary to belief, you do not need a parachute to skydive. You need a parachute to skydive twice.

• Always borrow money from a pessimist; he won’t expect it back.

• Some people cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

• I used to definitely be indecisive but now I am not so sure.

• It is tempting to fight fire with fire, but I try to remember that the Fire Department uses water.

• To be absolutely sure of hitting your target, shoot first and then call whatever you hit your target.

• Nostalgia not only isn’t what it used to be, but there’s no future in it, either.

• If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do people just keep on having children?

• Change is inevitable — except from a vending machine.

And finally, a favorite of my own — Where there is smoke, there is often somebody blowing it.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.