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WordPlay: What is a Paraprosdokian?

Updated on May 15, 2015

Are you a logophile and/or a lexophile?

Did you know that logophile and lexophile are seldom included in dictionaries? A few dictionaries have logophile, but lexophile is rarely, if ever, included. The lovers of wordplay have coined these words for their own entertainment. Both of these words mean a lover of words.

Lexophiles love paraprosdokians--a form of wordplay.
Lexophiles love paraprosdokians--a form of wordplay. | Source

Paraprosdokian

The word paraprosdokian is certainly a mouthful. How is it pronounced?

CLICK HERE to hear the word spoken.

It's harder to spell than it is to say.

What is the difference between a logophile or a lexophile? Both words include the Greek word “philia” which means love or affection.

The logo part of logophile comes from the Greek word logos which means word.

The lexo in lexophile comes from the Greek word lexikos which means “of words.”

The difference between these two words is very subtle.

A logophile is one who finds pleasure in the nuances of different words, and who is alert to synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and homonyms, often using them for effect and often in humor.

A lexophile is one who loves to play with words using them in in unique ways, for instance, in word games, puzzles, anagrams, palindromes, etc.

Just for fun, please take this poll.

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What are Paraprosdokians?

It must have been a lexophile who coined the word paraprosdokian. It is a derivative of a Greek word that means “beyond expectations.” It refers to a sentence with an unexpected shift in meaning accomplished with puns, misdirection, deliberate misunderstandings, and witty juxtaposition for humorous effect.

Paraprosdokiansis are a favorite of comedians who deliver “one-liners,” jokes which require only a single sentence. Perhaps the most famous example of this comes from the comedian, Henry Youngman (1906-1998) who was famous for his one-liners. He said:

Take my wife …. Please.

Initially, it seems Mr.Youngman means to use his wife as an example to illustrate his point, but the unexpected “please” at the end changes the meaning of “take my wife.” Now it literally means “take my wife” as in “take her away—you can have her; I don’t want her.”

The comic effect occurs because the reader or listener must reinterpret the first part of the sentence to accommodate the double meaning of the latter part of the sentence. It takes advantage of the fact that one word can have different meanings in different contexts.

I’m going to try to analyze the techniques used in paraprosdokians and give examples of each. In the strictest sense paraprosdokians rely on the manipulations of the meanings of words although it appears that the definition has stretched to include pithy wry observations.

A boiled egg is hard to beat--an example of a paraprosdokian.
A boiled egg is hard to beat--an example of a paraprosdokian. | Source

How do paraprosdokians use homonyms?

Some paraprosdokians rely on homonyms—words that sound alike and are spelled alike, but have more than one meaning.

A boiled egg is hard…. to beat.

In the above example, there are two puns. One reading of the phrase uses the word hard to mean firm or solid as in hard-boiled egg and the word beat to mean come out ahead as in win a competition. The phrase means something like “A boiled egg tastes better than an egg cooked some other way.”

However, hard can also mean difficult and beat an egg can also mean to stir it vigorously to liquefy it. Now the sentence means “It is very difficult to liquefy an egg that has already been cooked.”

We expected one meaning and got another. The unexpected switcharoo makes us laugh.

How do paraprosdokians use puns based on words that sound like a phrase using different words?

Some paraprosdokians rely on the type of pun where words almost sound like another word or phrase.

You can tune a piano…. but you can’t tuna fish.

In the above example, “tune a” refers to adjusting a piano so that it sounds the correct notes, but in the second half of the sentence the sound-alike word, “tuna”, is a type of fish. It’s a pun.

Here are some more of this type.

The police at a daycare center had to deal with a child who was resisting a rest.

When you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall.

You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish--an example of a paraprosdokian.
You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish--an example of a paraprosdokian. | Source

How do paraprosdokians use homophones?

Homophones are words that sound the same as other words with different spellings and meanings. Some paraprosdokians rely on the type of pun that occurs when two entirely different words are pronounced the same.

When she saw her first strand of grey hair, she wanted to dye.

If we substitute die for dye, the sentence has a whole new meaning. The sentence makes sense either way, but the meaning is entirely different. Does the lady wish to apply haircoloring or does she wish to end her life?

How do paraprosdokians use context?

Some paraprosdokians rely on using a word in one context, but then switching to a different context which subtly changes the meaning of the word.

This guy fell into an upholstery machine and now he’s fully recovered.

The word recovered means different things in different contexts. Someone who falls and injures himself is said to have recovered when his injury is healed. A sofa that is reupholstered is re-covered with new fabric.

He had a photographic memory, but he never developed it.

The word developed has different meanings in different contexts. When we think of photography, developed means the application of chemicals to film to reveal the picture. But when someone has a talent that they don’t try to maximize, for instance, an excellent memory, we say that they have a talent that is un-developed.

Here’s another in this vein.

A young man had his entire left side cut-off. He’s all right now.

Can paraprosdokians use more than one technique at a time?

Some paraprosdokians use more than one technique. They can use several hmonymns, homophones, and words with different meanings in different contexts to change the meaning of the sentence.

When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.

In the example above, the word four can also be spelled as for which will change the meaning of the sentence. Additionally, the word second is a homonym because it can mean a unit of time or the ordinal number that comes after first.

So the sentence seems to mean that the clock went back four seconds in time. But wait, what does this have to do with being hungry? We then realize that the clock returned for an additional serving of the entrée.

A bicycle can’t stand alone. It’s just too tired.

Is the bicycle too weary to stand by itself or can it not stand because it has only two tires? A change in the spelling of the word too and a change in the meaning of the word tired creates the joke.

If there is a will, I want to be in it--an example of a paraprosdokian.
If there is a will, I want to be in it--an example of a paraprosdokian. | Source

How do paraprosdokians use common sayings?

Sometimes paraprosdokians take a common saying or proverb, and give it a surprising twist by changing the meaning of the words.

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

You surely recognized that as playing off of, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Here are a few more

Two wrongs don't make a right—but three lefts do.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

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

What other tricks do paraprosdokians use?

Sometimes paraprosdokians are based on a deliberate misunderstanding of the intent of the sentence that sets up the joke.

When I fill out an application, in the part that says "In an emergency, notify . . . ," I put "doctor."

I saw a woman wearing a sweat shirt with "Guess" written on it...so I said "Implants?"

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

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

Some paraprosdokians negate the first part of the sentence with the second part of the sentence.

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

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

Do paraprosdokians have to use wordplay?

Evidently, paraprosdokians include sentences that do not use wordplay in the strictest sense. They often rely on redefining words in a witty way or making wry observations with unexpected conclusions. It's a paraprosdokian as long as it has a twist to it.

Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?

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

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.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

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.

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

Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? An example of a paraprosdokian.
Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? An example of a paraprosdokian. | Source

What are some paraprosdokians from famous people?

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

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

“In the morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas, I don't know.” —Groucho Marx

“If I could say a few words, I would be a better public speaker.”—Homer Simpson (cartoon character)

War does not determine who is right — only who is left.” — Bertrand Russell

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.” — Wilson Mizner

China Bans Punning!

© 2015 Catherine Giordano

Do you have any favorites you'd like to add? Add them here or just tell me what you think of the ones I found?

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great fun! Bev challenged me to use two new words in my latest novel....one of them is "probity." Do you know what it means?

      I used to learn a new word each week. I started out a new word each day but couldn't keep it up...but one per week was doable. I love the English language!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I could cheat and look up the definition, but I'll do it off the top of my head. It means acting properly in accordance with social norms. Oh darn, now I have to look it up to see if I got it right. "Paraprosdokian" was my new word for the week. It's a dilly. I liked it so much, I immediately wrote a hub about it.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Very entertaining word play. I am some kind of wordophile but I'm not sure which. There is a show on Sunday afternoons called a way with words that deals with language and the origin of words. It is very entertaining. Great hub!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Mel for the tip about the TV show about words. I'll look for it in the guide. I'm glad you found this hub entertaining and had fun with the wordplay. Thanks for commenting.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting hub on words. You presented them so perfectly from all angles to deliver the correct message of their usage.

      Thanks for enlightening us.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      It's actually a radio show Catherine on National Public Radio. Their website is waywordradio.org or something like that, another play on words. Check it out.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Venkatachari M: Thank you for your comment. I might have over analyzed a little bit, but I have a very analytical mind. Paraprosdokians are supposed to be funny and too much analysis can kill the joke.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Mel for telling me where to find this show about words. I'm sure others will enjoy this show as well.

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand

      I love hubs on wordplay! I'd prefer a lexophile to a logophile. The latter sounds like someone who'd be picked up by the cops in the early hours of the morning for humping the McDonald's "m". I don't need to tell you what a homophone sounds like!

      This hub was hilarious. You're right that many comedians use these. I especially like Milton Jones and Stewart Francis.

      It would be a bit of a conversation stopper to say "If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong", but it might help to defuse an increasingly explosive exchange. One to try if I get my wires crossed with someone and have to bail out.

      I wish I could remember all these `paraprosdokians' for everyday use, but I have a clear conscience and I'm all outta developing fluid. So, I'll g+, H+, and give this an A+. Cheers!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thomas Swan: I hope you laughed at my hub as often and as hard as I laughed at your comment. Since you tackle some topics that are likely to raise hackles, you may get to use the quote you like for defusing arguments quite often. Thanks so much for your praise, your votes, and your shares. It means a lot coming from a talented writer such as yourself.

    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Oh, wow now this is awesome! I am one person who cannot help playing with words in multiple ways, usually for a laugh. I have a crazy nickname for just about every celebrity you can think of and to me a "pot noodle" is "not a poodle"! It's something I just can't help doing and do it throughout each and every day.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      sparkster: Thanks. What could be better than "awesome." Wordplay is a lot of fun. Thanks for your comment.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I'm a lexophile and a logophile; words have always been my life and were also my work, so I should be!

      This is a witty, entertaining hub; you've managed to convey something potentially confusing in a clear way and made us laugh too.

      I think Churchill and Oscar Wilde were two of the best at word play, both witty but also rather sarcastic. Shame we don't have more intelligence and wit in politics today!

      Brilliant hub, Catherine! Up+++ & shared.

      Ann

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Ann, for your comment, votes, and shares. You are absolutely right about the politicians of today showing less wit. I think this is because. in the US at least, (1) many are not very intelligent and (2) they are afraid of their words being used against them.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      That was funny but interesting Catherine. You were right about those words - logophile and lexophile - because I have 5 dictionaries [2 of which are pocket] and only 1 had both words. I am more of a logophile than a lexophile but only partly in both. I voted it up, shared, pinned it and Tweeted it.

      Kevin

      Unrelated: I have a question which has been bugging me and I wanted your opinion.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 2 years ago from Texas

      How fun! I do indeed enjoy some wordplay and am also aware of synonyms (as I think most writers are). Your article here is as informative as it is fun.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Examier for your comments, votes and especially for sharing. Hugs and kisses for you. I checked five online dictionaries. I found logophile in 3 of them and lexophile in none of them. Also, I get the red underline for both of them and for paraprosdokian too. I really could have used spellcheck on that word--I spelled it 6 different ways--I hope my final proofread got them all corrected.

      If you have a question Kevin, you can email me.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      shanmarie: Glad you enjoyed the fun of word play. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      Catherine,

      I found both of them in my large Webster's hardcover dictionary spelled 'logophile' and 'lexophile'. I looked for lexophile under 'leox-' and 'lexo-' in the dictionary and the second is the way that it is spelled.

      Kevin

      Okay about the question.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I used the word lexophile about 10 times in this article and I misspelled it once with the o and x transposed. It is fixed now. My apologies. I'm the worst proofreader.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Exactly, Catherine, same here!

    • Emese Fromm profile image

      EmeseRéka 20 months ago from The Desert

      This was a lot of fun to read. Thank you!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 20 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Emese Fromm: I'm glad you enjoyed the word lay and the jokes.

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