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We have two loyal readers and the Greeks to thank for today’s Weird Word Wednesday. That word is paraprosdokian. 

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech “that sets us up to expect one thing, but ends on a surprising semantic twist.” Thanks to alphadictionary.com for that helpful explanation. Like this:

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

I experienced a paraprosdokian just this morning and didn’t even know it. It’s finally warmed up here in Wisconsin, so today I planned on opening up the basement door, hauling our junk outside, and vacuuming and sweeping the walls and ceiling. Sounds like fun, right? Wouldn’t you think all that effort deserves a little reward? Me, too.

soda-vending-machines-1

So after my morning workout, I went to the vending machine to buy a Diet Pepsi. I thought about how dusty and tired I’d be after hours in the basement, and how refreshing a DP would be. I stuck my money in the vending machine – it spat back a nickel or two, but finally cooperated. I pressed the tab for a Diet Pepsi – kaching! – anticipating the satisfying thunk of the bottle falling into the tray below. But my only reward was a little red light that said “OUT OF STOCK.”

I pressed the tab a couple more times, just in case the machine was being ornery. No dice. I flipped the change lever. Once. Twice. No dice. I felt a mini black cloud coalescing over my head – the nerve of this machine to deprive me of my reward!

Bill Watterson

Bill Watterson

I gave up and lugged my gym bag home. When I started researching the history and uses of paraprosdokian I found the one that applied to me:

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Get how the twist is amusing? Groucho Marx used a paraprosdokian when he said “I had a wonderful evening – but this wasn’t it.”

Or Albert Einstein, who supposedly said ““The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

Paraprosdokian comes from two Greek words, “against,” and “expectation.” There are even websites devoted to them, like this one.

This short clip shows how to pronounce this tongue twister. I’m off to clean the basement…

cleaning basement

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