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Pronunciation: zug-mê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: The synonym of syllepsis [s-lep-sis], a syntactic construction in which one subject governs at least two predicate phrases even though its sense applies to them in different ways, e.g. "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 your marbles" is idiomatic (marbles were not actually lost) while the meaning of "to lose your hat" is straightforwardly literal. However, if you combine them as in, "He lost his marbles and his hat," the result is an amusing zeugmatic expression, which is syntactically good but semantically mushy. As you can see, zeugmatic is the adjective of this noun; zeugmatically would be the adverb.

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 the flesh than her 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: Today's Good Word is a bare tracing of Greek zeugma "a bond, binding" from an earlier PIE root yeug-, also the origin of English yoke. Latin jugum "yoke" is another descendant, this one visible in English jugular, conjugate, and subjugate. The same root became jungas "yoke" in Lithuanian, while in Sanskrit it became yoga "union, a joining", which English speakers also enjoy today. English jostle is a former diminutive of joust, borrowed from the presumable Latin verb iuxtare "to be next to" from iuxta "nearby", another relative. (Now let's take the bull by the horns and the time to thank Mary Jane Stoneburg of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, for yoking us up with today's word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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