Clever headline? OK, maybe not, but as least it got your attention.  Welcome to the world of the paraprosdokian, which  is a figure of speech used in the last part of a sentence or phrase that is surprising or unexpected.

Comedians use this device to amuse or surprise us. Groucho Marx once said, “”I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” He later commented that, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

Jack Handey, of Saturday Night Live, said that, “On the other hand, we have different fingers.” How can you argue with that?

Sometimes the twist is based on fact. For instance, some say, “In the classroom to steal ideas from another person is plagiarism. Yet, scholars steal from many and call it research.”

Often the sentence or phrase is not only factual, but is painfully accurate. History is said to be written by the victor. It might be better said, “War does not determine who is right, but only who is left.”

In film, the surprise ending is now cliché since we have learned to anticipate it. In the movie, “Planet of the Apes”, actor Charlton Heston learns in the last scene that he will never make it back home from this space voyage, You may recall that he discovers the half buried Statue of Liberty. This tells him that he is already on Earth, but eons after a nuclear holocaust which left the world full of mutated but intelligent apes running the planet (just like today in Washington).

In business we confront paraprosdokians on a daily basis. For instance, a bank is a place that will lend you money, but only if you can prove that you don’t need it.  Banks also like to use terms like “free checking” and then charge you for online banking or using the ATM.

Finally, a paraprosdokian can help explain things in ways that even I can understand them. For example, it has been said that knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, while wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Think I am off base? Don’t worry because if I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2010

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