MAURER: Make your words do a U-turn

April 13, 2018

commentary-maurer-2018.jpgChange is inevitable—except from a vending machine.

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech derived from the Greek meaning “beyond expectation” in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is unexpected in a way that causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the first part. In the example above, the word “change” is expected to mean “to become different” but the second part of the sentence causes a U-turn and the meaning of “change” becomes “loose coins.” The meaning metamorphosis is sudden and funny. Here are more:

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

Two guys walked into a bar; the third one ducked.

Where there is a will—I want to be in it.

There are bunch of different crunches that affect the abs; my favorite is Nestle.

Groucho Marx achieved a double (flies and like) with, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

Some quips with unexpected endings, are not classic paraprosdokians because the latter part of phrase does not reframe or reinterpret the first part:

The early bird gets the worm—but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Early to bed and early to rise—until you have enough money to do otherwise.

If I agreed with you—we’d both be wrong.

Groucho Marx observed, “She got her good looks from her father; he’s a plastic surgeon.”

Many who study linguistics prefer to include these quips in a more expansive definition of paraprosdokian. So do I.

Often times, a paraprosdokian will define or become indelibly associated with a famous person:

Henny Youngman built his whole schtick around, “Take my wife—please.”

Dorothy Parker claimed fame with, “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end—I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

Oft-married Zsa Zsa Gabor surprised no one with, “He taught me housekeeping—when I divorce, I keep the house.”

Groucho Marx put down his host with the now oft-used, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening—but this wasn’t it.”

Winston Churchill quipped, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”

Wordsmith Oscar Wilde turned the phrase, “Some cause happiness wherever they go—others, whenever they go.”

Homer Simpson, in a comment applicable to us all, admitted “If I could just say a few words—I’d be a better public speaker.”

Humorist Will Rogers mused what may ring true today, “I belong to no organized party—I am a Democrat.”

Not only are paraprosdokians fun to read, they are even more fun to create, especially about people and institutions in the news. These are some of my efforts:

Mike Delph believes, “God created the Earth—yesterday.”

I like Hillary Clinton just the way she is—unemployed.

I want to serve in the U.S. Congress—subpoenas.

Ignorance is bliss—at Fox News.

Our Legislature did a good job this session—of doing nothing.

All that glitters—is on my wife’s wish list.

Harvey Weinstein could have said, “What’s good for the goose—is good for the movie executive.”

And for you Trumpians:

President Trump could use help in the Oval Office—to remove his personal belongings.•


Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.


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