Printable Version
Pronunciation: pæ-rê-prahz-dok-i-ên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A paraprosdokian is a phrase or sentence that leads us down the garden path to an unexpected ending. It sets us up to expect one thing but ends on a surprising semantic twist. For example, commenting on the progressive ideas of Labor Party member Sir Stafford Cripps (1889-1952), Winston Churchill once quipped: "There but for the grace of God—goes God."

Notes: Today's Good Word is floating around the Internet but hasn't found a place yet in most dictionaries. We usually eschew such words until they are established, but this is a sniglet that needs to be hurried along. It has an odd ending, -ian, which allows it to be used as an adjective, as 'a paraprosdokian expression', but not much more may be done with it derivationally.

In Play: Though many writers were good at creating paraprosdokians, few excelled Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx. Churchill once said, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else." One of Groucho's many paraprosdokians is: "I had a wonderful evening—but this wasn't it." Of course, we should not forget Oscar Wilde, who once quipped, "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." Still not enough paraprosdokians? Click here.

Word History: No one has written about the origin of today's Good Word, so let's start a trend. It is immediately composed of Greek para "beyond" and prosdokia "expectation". Prosdokia comprises pro "forth, forward, beyond" and the root of dokein "to think, imagine, expect". The same root gave us the Greek words dogma and paradox, another word referring to something beyond our expectations. In Latin the same root emerged as docere "to teach" (cause to think) and went into the making of the word borrowed by English as doctor "the highest university degree". (I will resist the temptation to resort to a paraprosdokian in thanking Jackie Strauss of Philadelphia, Ruth Baldwin, who is somewhere in Germany, and Lew Jury, who is somewhere over here, for hounding me until I wrote up today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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