Monday, September 20, 2010

Paraprosdokian: A cliché with a twist

“A true leader [writer] always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public [readers] excited and breathless.—Charles de Gaulle

Consummate wordsmiths strive to hone their craft. Write in active voice. Vary sentence length. Ban the adverb. Don’t mix metaphors. Avoid clichés. However, one underused figure of speech, the paraprosdokian, gives the lowly cliché new life. And what pray tell is the paraprosdokian twist? Paraprosdokian comes from two Greek words "παρα-", meaning "beyond" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation". A paraprosdokian (a figure of speech that uses an unexpected ending to a phrase or series):
  • sets up the reader's expectation, then delivers a surprise
  • changes or reframes the meaning of the first phrase or sentence, giving it a new meaning
  • plays on the double meaning of a particular word
  • links two incongruent ideas to a word, providing the same effect as a great metaphor
  • are employed by comedians and satirists
  • is akin to a punch line
  • can start with a cliché, and then startles the reader with different ending
  • results in a humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.

This paraprosdokian links the brand name “Guess” with two different thoughts: I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with "Guess" on it...so I said "Implants?"

Fiction writers can relate to these paraprosdokians:
  • The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas.
  • Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

What if one of your characters only spoke in paraprosdokians? Or this technique revealed the dark side of your character. Jeremy, a refined gentleman farmer, landscaped his lush yard, cooked gourmet dinners, read the classics, and enjoyed sitting atop rooftops taking deadly aim at his victims through the scope of his sniper rifle.

Examples of paraprosdokians
  1. He was at his best when the going was good.—Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor
  2. There but for the grace of God—goes God.—Churchill
  3. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.—Henry J. Tillman
  4. I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat. —Will Rogers
  5. She got her good looks from her father; he’s a plastic surgeon.—Groucho Marx
  6. I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it. —Groucho Marx
  7. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.—Groucho Marx
  8. It looked so good out this morning, I thought I’d leave it out. — Paul Benjamin King
  9. I haven’t slept for ten days. Because that would be too long.—Mitch Hedberg
  10. You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ‘em later.—Mitch Hedberg
  11. There’s a bunch of different crunches that affect the abs… my favorite is Nestle.—Shmuel Breban
  12. I like going to the park and watching the children run and jump around, because you see, they don’t know I’m using blanks.—Emo Philips
  13. Actually, my CD was released in 1985, in return for two German missionaries and a Dutch urologist.—Emo Philips
  14. I discovered my wife in bed with another man, and I was crushed. So I said, “Get off me, you two!”—Emo Philips
  15. Mark my words. No, Mark, I really need my words.—Stephen Colbert
  16. If all the girls at Vassar were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised.—Dorothy Parker
  17. It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.—Jack Handey
  18. On the other hand, we have different fingers.—Jack Handey
  19. The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face. — Jack Handey
  20. The car stopped on a dime, which unfortunately was in a pedestrian’s pocket.
  21. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
  22. Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.—Groucho Marx
  23. I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers.—Bob Monkhouse
  24. A modest man, who has much to be modest about.—Winston Churchill (of Clement Atlee)
  25. If you are going through hell, keep going.—Winston Churchill
  26. Take my wife—please.—Henny Youngman
  27. It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.—Winston Churchill
  28. You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.—Winston Churchill
  29. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
  30. We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.
  31. War does not determine who is right—only who is left.
  32. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  33. Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening’ and then proceeds to tell you why it isn’t.
  34. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  35. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a workstation.
  36. How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
  37. If I am reading this graph correctly—I would be very surprised.—Stephen Colbert
  38. I sleep 8 hours a day. And at least 10 at night. — Bill Hicks
  39. Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but you can’t help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.
  40. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  41. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
  42. I am most disgusted that you were not rewarded for your wonderful work.
  43. Take my hand, I don’t want it.
  44. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
  45. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
  46. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.
  47. If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.
  48. 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.
  49. The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
  50. I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted paychecks.
  51. A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don’t need it.
  52. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says “If an emergency, notify:” I put “DOCTOR”.
  53. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says “If an emergency, notify:” I list “9-1-1”
  54. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
  55. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
  56. 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.
  57. Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  58. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.
  59. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  60. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
  61. Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
  62. A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such away that you will look forward to the trip.
  63. Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.
  64. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.
  65. 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.
  66. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.
  67. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.
  68. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.
  69. I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.
  70. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
  71. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
  72. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
  73. A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.
  74. If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do some people have more than one child?
  75. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
  76. Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.—Groucho Marx
  77. Ninety percent of the game is half mental.—Yogi Berra
  78. A friend of mine invented a new parachute; it opens on impact, never fails...works for everybody that uses it the first time.
  79. She looks as though she’s been poured into her clothes, and forgot to say when.—P. G. Wodehouse
  80. Have you ever tried just sitting down with your children, turning the TV off, and hitting them.—Homer Simpson
  81. 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.
  82. I don’t have a girlfriend, I just know a girl who would get really mad if she heard me say that.—Mitch Hedberg
  83. I weigh 135 pounds naked, if that scale at the train station is to be believed.— Emo Phillips
  84. I’ve never seen him so sad, or ever before.—Scruffy in Futurama
  85. If I could say a few words, I would be a better public speaker. — Homer Simpson
  86. My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.
  87. You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship together and there was only one life jacket... I’d miss you heaps and think of you often.
  88. Hallmark Card: “I’m so miserable without you, it’s almost like you’re still here.”
  89. It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead.—Rose Macaulay
  90. To commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant.—Harold Arlen
  91. One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.—Oscar Wilde


Josh said...

Love. This.

Scoti Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

Thanks, Josh. I'm always looking for ways to improve and spice up my writing.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Scoti, where do you find these things?! ROTFL!

Jeanne T said...

Scoti, these were humorous to read (and brought a few LOL's), and they got me thinking about my writing. I got an e-mail with some of these, but you shared many I hadn't read yet. :) Thanks for sharing!

Teri Dawn Smith said...

Too funny!