Paraprosdokians ~~ Fossils, Crystals, Igneous Rocks, or a Linguistic Term?

Paleolithic Fossil, a Paraprosdokian?


Intellectual Satire or Educational Parody

Public Disclaimer: Those of you who do not love words and language, and who have little sense of humor might want to stop reading, NOW. Thank you for your consideration. :)

Everyone loves studying grammar. Grammar is delightful and I am sure you have wonderful memories of the many teachers who taught you the rules of grammar and introduced you to the rules necessary for literary compositions Those were my favorite teachers. :) One of the things I don’t remember studying is Paraprosdokians. Why don’t we tackle them together?

Paraprosdokians are interesting figures of speech where the second half of the sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and this often leads the listener to reinterpret the first half of the sentence. Paraprosdokians can also play on the double meaning (or as the French would say, double entendre) of a particular word. They are frequently used in conversation or written dialogue to create a humorous or dramatic effect and are often used by comedians and satirists.

Wolfranite Crystals, Paraprosdokians?


Etymology - One of my Favorite, Favorite Things!

Let’s start with one of my favorite things, etymology. According to Wikipedia, "Paraprosdokian" comes from the Greek word "παρά," which means "against" and another Greek word "προσδοκία," which means "expectation." So a paraprosdokian is a sentence where the second half or part of a sentence “works against expectation” or contradicts the expectations set up in the first half.

Interestingly, some scholars believe the word is a late 20th century neologism (a newly coined word, expression). But apparently the word was in use in Greece in the first and second centuries with the same meaning we use today.

We all see, hear, and use these types of sentences on a regular basis; we probably are just not sure what to call them. Let’s study this figure of speech and examine a few together. Maybe later you will want to post your favorite paraprosdokian in the comments section. Maybe you heard one recently; maybe you make them up yourself! This is kind of like a participatory HP game! :)

Rain Forest Botanical, a Paraprosdokian?


Three Commonly Used Paraprosdokians

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

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

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

Terrestrial Bacteria, Paraprosdokians?


Another Three Paraprosdokians

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

I used to be indecisive; now I am not so sure.

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

Variegated Granite, a Paraprosdokian?


Another Three Paraprosdokians

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

They begin the evening news with 'Good Evening,' then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

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

Rain Forest Spore, a Paraprosdokian?


Three Celebrity Paraprosdokians

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

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

"She looks as though she's been poured into her clothes, and forgot to say 'when'." P. G. Wodehouse

Linguistic Device, Figure of Speech, Paraprosdokian? Why, yes!


Books on Grammar You Probably Won't Find Interesting

More by this Author

Comments, Votes, and Paraprosdokians are Welcome :) 34 comments

arb profile image

arb 4 years ago from oregon

O.K. Theresa, Although that was well done, well explained and well written, I'm o.k. if I never see the word again. I will never know how in the hell to spell it without seeing it and I can't pronounce it. I will continue doing it although I won't be able to spell, pronounce or describe what I'm doing. Last, but not least, it is the ugliest word I've ever read; unpoetic, hard, sterile and it just doesn't roll off the tongue, it just kinda gets stuck on the end of it. I'll wait for the next one. Don't like the word, but, I adore you! voted all over the place.

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PWalker281 4 years ago

I studied linguistics at one of the best universities in the country and, let me tell you, I never heard that word before. Never heard it in high school either (can't imagine hearing it in grammar school), so I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. I get the concept of paraprosdokians but coming up with one is easier said than done. If I think of one or come across one, I'll come back and post it. Voted up and (extremely) interesting.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Oh, that is just too funny! I so agree with you. It is ugly, ungainly, impossible to pronounce...every single time I typed it I had to look over on a piece of paper to see if I was spelling it right. And the word has never "rolled" anywhere. It is a terrible struggle to process it through the vocal cords, past the tongue, and between the lips.

But I got an email today with the word and a list of examples. It was a new figure of speech to me; I did not realize such "verbal constructions" had a name. The definition intrigued me as well as the Greek roots, and soon I was composing the hub in my head. Rather irritating actually, because I had hoped to complete two other hubs that I have been working on. Ah well, aren't we supposed to strike while the iron is hot?

BTW, if the trade off for adoration and votes is someone utterly despising my word choice, I can totally liv with that. :) Have a great evening. Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

PW - I am so glad to hear you say that, because I had never heard or seen the word before today. And my mother was an English teacher! So, we two old dogs learned something today.

It is hard to come up with one, but you know how you learn a new word and suddenly you see it everywhere? I think we will start noticing sentences that are constructed this way. BTW, I am green with envy; you studied linguistics? I have always said in my next life I want to major in linguistics and minor in history. Have a great evening.:)

shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

I think a lot of jokes use Paraprosdokians: i.e. “When I was a child I was afraid of the dentist; he was a pedophile…” pa dum dum.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I think you are right. I hear a lot of comedians use them. Have a great evening. :)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

You put together such a perfect hub.. but Paraprosdokians.. I won't touch that word with a ten foot pole.. hell I don't even think I spelled it correctly.. so go-right ahead and lecture I'll just skip over the words that'll have me wrestling with my dictionary. but nonetheless.. thank you as always for a very dedicated and defined hub.. you are probably running head to head with Alastar in being the top two well uniformed displayer of hubs.. bless you

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

This was so interesting! It's always fun to hear and learn a new word, and, I really do love learning more about grammar and figures of speech like paraprosdokians! :) I think that Rodney Dangerfield used them frequently. Remember his, "Take my wife...PLEASE!"

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Frank- I know, I know...I have already been taken to task for the horrid, ugly, unpronounceable word! :) You did spell it correctly, though! But it such an interesting figure of speech. :)

"Head to head with Alaster?" What a terrific compliment. No, bless you! Have a wonderful day. :)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

hi Stephanie, I'm so glad it was interesting. I just knew there had to be a few people out there who loves words and language and learning like I do. And you're absolutely right, Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of using sentences structured that way. At first you think he's going to say one thing, and then he twisted and goes in a completely different direction. Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate them. :-)

John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Hi Theresa, this is a truly great hub. I love languages, and I find this very interesting and unique.

Take care - voted up


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello John. We are such kindred spirits when it comes to loving language. I still can't really understand people who don't love words and language. Secretly, although I would never say this to anyone, I think something must have gone wrong in their childhood or early school years to snuff out the love of learning that seems to come naturally to all small children. I enjoy learning and it saddens me that others don't.

Thanks for the visit and your very generous comments. :)

Hope your week is going well. Thresa

pmorries profile image

pmorries 4 years ago from Golden, CO

Stop it! You give me a terrible migraine and make me love every minute of it. Your writing makes people tongue-tied, doubt their spelling skills, have to grab a dusty dictionary, and gives your readers a terrible migraine while making them laugh. If I wanted to learn something useful, I would watch reality TV. You could learn a lot from that Renaissance woman, Snooki. She is very intelligent. In fact, she is a pseudo intellectual. Seeing students like her entering your classroom must make you wonder- how much more knowledge you can stuff between their vacant ears. Fail?

molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

I offer the following for your delectation.

Late one day, in the middle of the night

two dead men got up to fight

Back to back they faced each other

drew their swords and shot each other!

Paraprosdokians are very interesting as is this hub, which has had all the buttons, pressed within an inch of their lives. Voted in the upward direction from the application of a downward pressure on my mouse :)

Very funny hub Theresa, more please.

molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

Love the 'new' fossil photo's.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

pmorries - You can't imagine how delighted I am by your response! :) You are adding fuel to my fire. This is a ream come true. I can write what I want, what I personally like, on a level that strains your mind to its limit, but you still love it? And you still laugh? That's like the ultimate compliment for someone like me. :)

But you are probably right I should check out that Renaissance woman Snooki. I could probably learn a lot from her. I do get Snooki and her friends in my classes from time to time. I consider it punishment for something terrible I did in an earlier life. :) Your comments encouraged me immensely. Thank you. And until next time, keep your dusty dictionary nearby. :)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I got this cool t-shirt for my sister; best trade I ever made.

Oh Michael, I am all but swooning. How seldom do I hear someone use the word delectation. Very clever bunch of contradictions! Not sure I have seen that one before. And I am so pleased this one was a big hit with you. :) Thank you for wonderful comments and buttons and all!

It is the strangest thing, I never set out to be funny, it just kind of happens along the way. I don't think I would know how to plan a funny Hub or essay. I think my funny bone is very small, but every now and again I find it accidentally. :)

Since hardly anyone has posted any paraprosdokians (quite an awkward word), I have several to share myself and I will keep looking and listening for more of them. :)


You should never go to bed angry; stay up and plot your revenge.

Why don’t you slip into something more comfortable, like a coma?

I have kleptomania, but when it gets bad, I just take something for it.

I love cooking with wine, sometimes I even put some in the food.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I got it, I got it! (and sometimes I don't get it) Its an oxymoron, like big shrimp. :) Hope you are having a great week. Is teaching still invigorating? I do hope so. Theresa

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

As my little granddaughter told me a dozen times last week, "What fun!" :) I am calling for more, more, more! :)

This was a delightful read--amazing that you do not plan to be funny! Let's see, how's this?

He’s claustrophobic, except when wearing his Santa costume.

Also enjoyed the fossil after the first impression. I thought it was reminiscent of the remains of a relic so I was at first petrified of it.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Good Morning RT - Thanks for your generous and enthusiastic comments. I will certainly try to do more, but these sorts of Hubs (Etymology, Paraprosdokians) just seem to happen every now and then without a whole lot of intention on my part. But I will certainly be watching for the smallest spark of an idea. :)

You are quite good at this. The Santa sentence is good, but I really love the one where you have injected a wonderful twist in both sentences. I agree with your grand-daughter, "what fun!" :)

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PWalker281 4 years ago

Found one!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” —ERNEST HEMINGWAY

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

PW- You certainly did find one and by such a famous and well-renowned author.

I am impressed and I like it. :) Hope you are having a wonderful week.

Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan

Fun stuff!

Like many commenters above, I'd never encountered the word 'paraprosdokian' before reading this article. I've been calling them 'one-liners' for the longest time.

So how do you pronounce 'paraprosdokians,' anyway? Is it pare-uh-pro-dough-key-ans, or pare-uh-pross-daw-key-ans, or something else?

Voted funny and interesting!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Jeff - It is fun stuff isn't it? I always called then one-liners with a twist. I had no idea there was a term for them. I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I in my mind I have been saying it like your first model, only I kept the s sound at the end of of pro (pronounced like prose) and accented the dough syllable.

Thank you for stopping by and voting. Hope you have a great week. :)

Rusti Mccollum profile image

Rusti Mccollum 4 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

Okay I have to say, I loved this hub!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Rusti - Glad you loved it. It was a lot of fun to put together. :)

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 4 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi phdast7 :)

Very enjoyable.

I love word play! :)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Trish - Isn't word=play wonderful. In my family we truly do not understand and feel sorry for people who do not enjoy it. :( So glad you enjoyed the Paraprosdokian Hub. :)

Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

"Everyone loves studying grammar" - Haha!! Depends which language we are talking about. English is not so bad, or even French but I had to learn Romanian grammar (which is the closest language to Latin) and I also studied German ... that latter one is a real pain - the verb comes at the end of the sentence in many cases or most cases. Not much fun if You ask me lol.

I have never heard of "Paraprosdokians" and I was even an English major for my first year in university ... I guess that's why I switched my majors lol.

"We all see, hear, and use these types of sentences on a regular basis; we probably are just not sure what to call them" - I can certainly agree with You here.

Before I saw your example of "The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it's still on my list", I was just thinking that the use of the word "but" can quite easily get someone a ... lol what was that word again (I gotta scrool up, haha) ... ohh ya: Paraprosdokian. Geez, a tongue twister in my opinion. : /

I was going to say: "We could ride together this weekend but I really have no more space in the car ...".

This was a fun read! Cheers! : )

P.S. I gotta share this!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

White Wolf - So glad you enjoyed this one. It was great fun to put together. I "know" about the perplexing German tendency to throw the main verb of the sentence to the very end. In graduate school, I was required to pass translation exams in two languages, German was one of them.

Its funny, I never saw the word until a friend emailed it to me two months ago. And a woman on HP who majored in linguistics said she had never heard of it either. Maybe it is a recent construction, or so obscure that none of us had ever heard of it.

The sentences are quite common and often do have the word "but" as the pivot (I like that word) between the two halves which head in opposite directions. Now, that I have written about them, I see and hear them everywhere. :) Thanks for your comments and for sharing. Theresa

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Language is endlessly fascinating. I had not heard the terms before, but found myself reading through and pondering and chuckling. Thank you!!!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Dear Audrey -

Don't know how or why I neglected to respond to you two years ago. I am sorry. Thank you for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed the hub and had a chuckle. I did too. :) Take care. Theresa

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 8 months ago from TEXAS

I certainly missed this one when you first published it! How great to see Alan's witty comments here. I believe I met you on his hubpages. Fun to piece together the history.

This is the first I've heard of Paraprosdokians. They were never included on those lists of figures of speech to be learned. So obscure. Whoever brought the word to your attention surely must have dug deeply to find it!

I do like the concept and have used it in various poems, just because I think seemingly contradictory concepts are quite within the realm of possible co-existence, if not co-operativeness or even co-dependency. Besides, it seems to cause a kind of 'double-take' reaction which promotes thought.

I'm so glad you mentioned this hub on FB or I might never have seen it!

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 8 months ago from TEXAS

By the way, I love your illustrations! Also I should mention that my online dictionary, which consults Wikipedia, Thesaurus and Apple for meanings, has no listing for Paraprosdokians. (Hey, I'm starting to be able to spell it and to pronounce it in my mind!)

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