One of the world's greatest-ever paraprosdokianists


In this blogposting...
*Some Paraprosdokians To Make You Smile
*If A Dog Were Your Teacher...
Now let it all hang out...

Almost every kind of wordplay, turn of phrase or expression-type has a name, from acronyms to verbification via puns, spoonerisms, palindromes, malapropisms, aptronyms and mondegreens. All of them are, of course, grist to the truckshunter mill, as it were. Indeed, I’ve just spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring some of them.

I’ve even tried to invent or recall an example of my own for each category, with very limited success. Try it yourself; it’s not always as easy as it might appear.

I have Michael in Houghton-le-Spring to thank for all this. He’s emailed me (at the address below) about two of his favourite wordplay types: auto-antonyms and paraprosdokians.


An auto-antonym is a word which, for one reason or another, has two exactly opposite meanings. Here are a few of the intriguing examples that Michael quotes...

*fast - can mean ‘moving rapidly’ (running fast) or ‘not moving at all’ (stuck fast)
*bolt - can mean ‘to attach firmly’ or ‘to leave quickly’
*quite - can mean ‘slightly’ (quite pleasant) or ‘completely’ (quite amazing/stunning/beautiful)
*out - can mean ‘shining’ (the stars are out) or just the opposite (the fire’s gone out)
*overlook - can mean ‘not notice at all’ or ‘inspect closely’
*left - can mean ‘depart’ (I left at six) and ‘remaining’ (I was the only one left)

And there are lots more.

(As a matter of interest - to me, at least - I’ve even turned up one or two French examples. Hote can mean ‘guest’ or ‘host’.)

Paraprosdokians, though, are a different kettle of fish altogether. Michael defines them as (and I quote him here) ‘figures of speech in which the second part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. They are frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, they are extremely popular among comedians and satirists’.

Definitions are all well and good, as far as they go, but the best way to understand what paraprosdokians are is to look at some of the wonderful examples Michael sent me.

*She got her good looks from her father; he's a plastic surgeon - Groucho Marx
*I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it - Groucho Marx (I love that one)
*One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know - Groucho Marx
*I haven't slept for ten days. Because that would be far too long - Mitch Hedberg (I love that one too)
*I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with them later - Mitch Hedberg
*I like going to the park and watching the children run and jump around. They don't know I'm using blanks - Emo Philips
*Actually, my CD was released in 1985, in return for two German missionaries and a Dutch urologist - Emo Philips
*I discovered my wife in bed with another man, and I was crushed. So I said, 'Get off me, you two!' - Emo Philips
*It's too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as a pack of wild dogs - Jack Handey
*The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face - Jack Handey
*Keep reaching for the stars, because those are the only people who can help you - Maria Bamford

Here are some more from Michael’s wonderful list. He doesn’t say who their originators were. If you know, or want to try finding out, please get in touch.

*I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his bus.
*Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car
*Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

*If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
*War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
*Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.
*I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
*Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars but check when you say the paint is wet?
*A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
*You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
*Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.
*Money can't buy happiness, but it certainly makes misery easier to live with.
*Some people cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.
*When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Brigade usually uses water.
*To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
*Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.
*A bus is a vehicle that goes twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

Aren’t they smashing?

Peter in South Shields sent me this. Sentimental old fool!

If a dog were your teacher, you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
Take naps and stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run straight back and make friends.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
Stop when you’ve had enough.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you’re not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
And MOST of all… When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by
and nuzzle them gently.

OK - dry your eyes.

Thanks Peter.

I want to hold AGM XXII either in the week before Christmas - probably on Wednesday 22 December - or in the week after Christmas - probably on Wednesday 29. In both cases, I'm quite prepared to be the only turckshunter who turns up!

If you have any thoughts about this, please get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me:


Kev said...

Question for Ian: what's a turckshunter?

How about -

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public. too true!

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

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.

You're never too old to learn something stupid.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Take care

Ian Robinson said...

Kev...a turckshunter is someone who shunts turcks. I would have thought that was obvious.

Kev said...

Okay then, what's a turck?

Wait a moment.... I've just googled 'turck' and guess what - the turck family album is available at

Kev said...

Something to get the grey cells working..

See if you can translate the following into the familiar sayings we've all heard?

Scintillate, Scintillate, asteroid exiguous.
Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.

Cogitation should precede salutations

It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitately departed lacteal fluid.

Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to rectitude.

The stylus is more potent then the claymore.

It is fruitless to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative manoeuvre.

Eschew the implement of correction of vitiate the scion.

The temperature of the aqueous content of an unremittingly ogled saucepan does not does reach 212 F'.

All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous.

Where there are visible vapours in ignited carbonaceous material, there is conflagration.


Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
Birds of a feather, flock together.
Think before you speak.

Don't cry over spilled milk.
Cleanliness is next to godliness.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Spare the rod and spoil the child.
A watched pot doesn't boil.
All that glitters is not gold.
Where there's smoke, there's fire.