• zeugma •
Pronunciation: zug-mê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The Greek correlate of the Latin word, syllepsis [si-lep-sis], a syntactic construction in which a single word governs two phrases in different ways, e.g. He in "He flew off the handle and straight to Rio."
Notes: Zeugma (syllepsis) usually indicates that one of the words or phrases involved is used normally while the other is in an idiom. "To lose one's temper" is idiomatic (nothing is actually lost) while the meaning of "to lose his hat" is straightforward. However, if you combine them, i.e. "He lost his hat and his temper almost simultaneously", the result is an amusing zeugmatic expression which is syntactically good but not so good semantically.
In Play: Let's look at an example of zeugma from Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens: "Miss Nipper shook her head and a tin canister, and began, unasked, to make the tea." Get the idea? Now let's see if we can do it: "Councilwoman Rankin would rather press flesh than clothes." You have probably already heard something similar to this, "He drove his car recklessly and his wife crazy." All these sentences suffer from inoperable zeugma.
Word History: From Greek zeugma "a bond," which devolved from earlier *yeug-, also the origin of English "yoke." Latin jugum "yoke" ([j] was pronounce [y]) is another descendent, one responsible for English jugular, conjugate, and subjugate. The same root became Sanskrit yugam "yoke" and yoga "union." English jostle is a former diminutive of joust, borrowed from Latin iuxtare "to be next to" from iuxta "nearby," another relative. The nasalized variant gave us English join, joint, junction and Spanish "junta," all originating in Latin iungere "to join." (Now let's take the bull by the horns and thank Mary Jane Stoneburg of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for yoking us up with this Good Word.)