The cigar-smoking princes of paraprosdokians
Q: What did ‘Groucho’ Marx and Winston Churchill have in common, apart from their love of cigars?
A. They were both fabuously witty wordsmiths and remain today, the great princes of paraprosdokians.
A paraprosdokian is a word play, loved by satirists. It is usually a short phrase that features two ideas. The first idea is often positive or an expression the listener may identify with, such as this one from ‘Groucho’ Marx:
She got her good looks from her father…
The second part of the phrase has the dramatic effect, a kind of verbal ambush, and forces the listener to reinterpret the complete phrase.
She got her good looks from her father; he's a plastic surgeon.
Here are some more examples from ‘Groucho’ Marx:
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
The term paraprosdokian comes from Greek; para meaning against and prosdokian meaning expectation. It is a relatively well-known term, but for some reason doesn’t appear in the Oxford English dictionary.
Paraprosdokians are not limited to humour, as British philosopher, historian and writer Bertrand Russell observed with this famous line:
War doesn't determine who is right, only who is left.
Winston Churchill was much more mischievous and literally had them rolling in the aisles of parliament with his famous paraprosdokian put downs:
The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.
If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Here are some famous other paraprosdokians:
They begin the evening news with 'Good Evening,' then proceed to tell you why it isn't - Unknown
If I am reading this graph correctly - I'd be very surprised - US television satirist Stephen Colbert
He was at his best when the going was good - Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor
You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else - Winston Churchill
On his feet he wore…blisters - Aristotle
A modest man, who has much to be modest about - Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee
If I could just say a few words… I'd be a better public speaker - Homer Simpson
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research - Wilson Mizner, American playwright
Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with - Unknown
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine - Robert C Gallagher
The only thing standing between greatness and me is me – Woody Allen
He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce I keep the house - Zsa Zsa Gabore