A hallowed device in the mystery writer’s lexicon is the twist ending – an unexpected event that throws all that has preceded it into a different light. As kids we all loved the Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and our adult lives have often been spent grumbling over the fact that so many of the great twist endings were used while we were still in grade school. (Dammit, I could have written that story about the frozen leg of lamb!) The twist ending is not relegated solely to novels or short stories; it also exists in more minimalistic surrounds as the paraprosdokian.
I knew the device long before I knew the device’s name. "Paraprosdokian" comes from Greek "παρά", meaning "against" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation." A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech used to describe an observation, framed in a phrase or a sentence or sentences, in which the ending is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the observation as a whole. A classic example is: “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.” Another is: “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.”
Sometimes the basis for a paraprosdokian relies on a word that can have two meanings. Generally these can be completed with the phrase “you can say that again.”
- Prime Minister: “Your highness, the peasants are revolting.” King: “You can say that again.”
- Wife: “You have to admit that my parents are trying.” Husband: “You can say that again.”
- There but for the grace of God -- goes God.
- A modest man, who has much to be modest about.
- If you are going through hell, keep going.
- It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.
- You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.
- I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
- Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. (This one gets my "best in show" award!)
- Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
- When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun.’
- From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.
- The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
- I have nothing but respect for you -- and not much of that.
- She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon.
- For that act alone the defendant should get ten years in Levenworth, or eleven years in twelveworth, or five and ten in the Woolworth.
- Get out of my life. You can leave in a taxi and if you can’t find a taxi you can leave in a huff. And if you need more time, make it a minute and a huff.
- When love comes in the door, money flies out the innuendo.
- I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
- Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
- Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
- Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
- If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
- War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
- Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
- Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening' and then proceed to demonstrate why it isn't.
- How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
- Why is it wrong to use a handicapped parking space but all right to use a handicapped bathroom stall?
- I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
- Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
- In totalitarian countries there is complete freedom of speech – you can say anything that you want to. Once.
- When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
- When tempted to “split the baby,” remember that this was precisely what Solomon avoided doing.
- To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
- Life isn’t what it used to be. And it never was.
- Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
(Be sure to click the link for a rousing send-off!)