Comic Stick Figure of Speech: Paraprosdokian

[Figure Friday] Paraprosdokian: The Jack Handey Figure

Paraprosdokian (pair-uh-pros-DOH-key-an) [trope] – A sentence or phrase where the latter part causes the audience to rethink the former part.

Master the paraprosdokian figure and you’re well on your way to a career in comedy—as many jokes rely on this mostly-hilarious trope:

“If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.”
– Homer Simpson

The power of this figure come from the unusual dis/connection between the two parts of the sentence. The more unusual (but clever) the dis/connect, the more effective the paraprosdokian will be:

“Let me know if you need help fixing that grill, so I can call someone.”
– Me (at a BBQ last weekend)

For readers old enough to remember, this is the figure that made “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” famous:

“I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.”
– Jack Handey

But it’s not all fun and games with the paraprosdokian. If you’re careful about the dis/connect, meaning it’s particularly clever, you can create a powerful figure for serious topics (especially if you like Eastern philosophy):

Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.

Happiness is persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I’ll take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]

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