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.
The delectable figure.
The verbing figure.