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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Best Figure for Getting a Laugh

    Figgy.jpgFigaro is heading on a tour, but he has not shirked his figurative duties. For the next few entries, he’ll name the best figure for each of several useful purposes.

    Today’s winner for Figure Most Likely to Raise a Yuk is:

    Paraprosdokian (pa-ra-proze-DOKE-ian), the surprise ending.

    The paraprosdokian’s impossible-to-pronounce name makes it one of the most underrated figures. But the funniest people in history knew how to wield it. The figure starts with ordinary language or a cliché, and then smacks the audience upside the head with a different ending.

    “She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and forgot to say when.” (P.G. Wodehouse)
    “It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead.” (Rose Macaulay)
    “To commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant.” (Harold Arlen)
    “I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” (Will Rogers)
    “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” (Oscar Wilde)

    Though people avoid clichés like the plague, they’re a great resource — they make the rhetorical world go round — but only if you transform them with your instant wit. Give your next cliché a paraprosdokian twist, and the world will be your oyster. Whether you like oysters or not.


    Tasis (TAY-sis)
    The delectable figure.

    Anthimeria (an-thih-MARE-ee-uh)
    The verbing figure.

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    Reader Comments (6)

    My friend has a trophy wife. Apparently not first place. - Steven Wright
    October 29, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterthatbaldguy
    What do you call it when you change a word or two within a phrase or cliche, as in the country song, "I've got friends in low places" or the natural food brand, "Garden of Eatin'?" Are these metalepses since they evoke priorly established semantic clusters?
    October 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer
    Semantic clusters lie over there in the linguistics pile, even the most priorly established of them. Now and then they tumble over and get crunched underfoot, but they're lovable all the same. That being said, it's the proper term for that country western song.

    Garden of Eatin', on the other and, is a PARANOMASIA, the near-pun.


    October 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Would a Deep Thought by Jack Handy qualify as a paraprosdokian?

    Check it: www.deepthoughtsbyjackhandy.com
    October 31, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEric Crouch
    Some Deep Thoughts would, and some wouldn't. Much of Handy's humor comes from absurd irony, or ironic absurdity. But now and then he slings one fine paraprosdokian:

    "When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns."

    November 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Can you tell me what the differences are between "Wellerisms" and "Paraprosdokians"?
    January 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlidoodledog

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