Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, & Winston Churchill were masters of the paraprosdokian, a one-liner that ends in a manner that causes the reader to reconsider the beginning.
A classic example is Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
The word paraprosdokian comes from Greek. It’s a combination of para-, meaning against, & prosdokian, meaning expectation.
Here are a few anonymous ones:
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
War doesn’t determine who is right—only who is left.
Always borrow money from a pessimist; he won’t expect it back.
Light travels faster than sound - this is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on the list.
And here are a few more from luminaries:
Winston Churchill — “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”
And another from Winston Churchill -- “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor --“He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce, I keep the house.”
Groucho Marx--”I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”
Albert Einstein--“The difference between stupidity & genius is that genius has its limits.”
Dorothy Parker — “If all the girls who went to Yale were laid end-to-end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”
Please leave a note in the comments with any other paraprosdokians you know, or with comments on the ones above.
Thanks to this week’s sources, English Forums, LiteraryDevices.net, Urban Dictionary, Wordnik, & Coffee with the Hermit.
Many of us who love the English language cringe upon hearing the word orientate. Truth is, orientate is recognized by almost all respectable dictionaries. So what makes orientate so cringeworhty?
Orientate is what etymologists call a back-formation. It was born when English speakers “verbified” the noun orientation. What curls the toes of language sticklers is that we already had the perfectly good verb orient — why create a second, longer word with the same exact meaning?
Not all words created through back-formation make certain people wince. A bunch of words came to us by lopping off bits instead of adding bits.
Secrete arrived in 1707 from secretion (1640).
Surveil came to us in 1904 from surveillance (1802).
Greed showed up in 1600 from greedy, which has been part of English since before anyone called it English.
Implode came to us in 1870 from implosion (1829).
Zip appeared in 1932 from zipper (1925).
Paginate showed up in 1858 from pagination (1841).
Incarcerate arrived in 1550 from incarceration (1530s).
Avid came to us in 1769 from avidity (1400s)
Mutate appeared in 1818 from mutation (1300s).
Humiliate arrive in the 1530s from humiliation (1300s).
And even the verb edit (1891) is most likely a back-formation of editor (1640).
Please leave any thoughts on all this in the comments section.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Collins English Dictionary, Grammar Girl, & Wordnik.com.
Sometimes what appears to be an unexplainable preference actually has an explanation.
Each year I have the incredible good fortune to attend a writing retreat with children’s writing guru & editing luminary, Patricia Lee Gauch. Now a retired editorial director of Philomel (Penguin), Patti wrote some remarkable children’s books & is a passionate editor & teacher. She was the first editor to hire illustrator extraordinaire, Floyd Cooper. And here's a handful of the many authors whose award-winning books she edited: Jane Yolen, TA Barron, Judith St. George, Lloyd Alexander, Eric Carle, Patricia Polacco, Kathryn Erskine, Andrew Clements, Virginia Hamilton, & Brian Jacques.
While discussing making a scene come alive, Patti notes that many editors tend to ask authors for detail, but the word detail has never resonated for her. Instead, she sometimes asks for more specifics. Her default term though -- the word that really latches onto what she’s looking for in a scene that needs to come alive -- is texture.
Interesting. The modern word detail, meaning a small, subordinate piece, came to English about 1600 from a French noun that originally meant cut into pieces.
Her second choice, the noun specifics, arrived in English about that same time from Latin through French. The original Latin word meant kind or sort, & is also the parent word for the word species.
Patti's preferred word, texture, made its way into English two centuries earlier from Latin through Middle French. It’s related to the word textile & comes from a verb that meant to weave or fabricate.
In their efforts to help authors craft books, editors are doing all they can to help those authors weave the disparate strands of character, story, setting & tension into something whole, something complete. Nobody wants a story to be cut into pieces. Maybe it's no surprise that a gifted, longstanding editor winces at the use of the word detail, finds the word specifics acceptable, but not quite right, & relishes the word texture.
Does Patti’s word choice when it comes to editorial advice reflect a sixth sense regarding the history of these words? Can a word’s origins follow it from language to language & culture to culture, through centuries of change?
Readers, writers, what are your thoughts on this? Please chime in by clicking on comments below.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED. Photo by Megan Frances Abrahams.
We English-speakers (& users of the languages that preceded English) have done a whole lot of splitting & cutting. All the following words (& a bunch I couldn’t fit into this post) come from one Proto-Indo-European source. Etymologists write this word *skei-. It meant to cut or split.
It gave us the word shingle, a piece of wood split from a larger piece. The idea that a shingled roof involves overlapping pieces also gave us the meaning overlapping stones on the shore. It also gave us the idiom to hang out one’s shingle, & a hairstyle involving overlapping layers.
Appearing in Old English (some time between 400 & 1000 AD), the word shin appears to have come from the knowledge that the fibula in the lower leg appears to have split off from the larger tibia.
Shed also showed up in Old English, meaning to divide, separate, part company or discriminate. In modern usage, we still see this meaning in the phrase to shed one’s skin & in the term watershed, in which drops of rain falling on one side of a mountain are divided from the drops of rain fallowing on the opposite side.
Shiver, originally a small piece, fragment or splinter, came from *skei-, as did shiver, to break into small pieces (as in shiver me timbers), however the shivering we might do when cold or frightened comes from a different source altogether.
Coming to English in 1883 we have the word ski, which came from *skei- through Old Norse from a word meaning a long stick of wood — one split from a larger piece.
The root *skei- also made its way through Greek & Latin to arrive in English as the combining form schizo-, which gave us - among other words - schizophrenic, reflecting a condition originally understood to involve a split personality.
Though etymologists still argue over the origin of the word ship, one school of thought maintains ship came from *skei- because the building of the earliest vessels involved the cutting or hollowing of a tree.
And because knowledge involves distinguishing (or splitting) one thing from another, we have the words science, prescience, omniscience, conscience, & many others.
All from cutting & splitting. Who knew?
If you found all this intriguing or surprising, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Collins English Dictionary, & Wordnik.com.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.