Another Figure of Speech

rogersgeorge on March 2nd, 2017

Some time ago I posted a series about figures of speech, which I invite you to check out if you like. Recently I ran into another figure of speech, called paraprosdokian. It’s Greek for something like “given against and alongside.”

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence is unexpected and oft times very humorous.

I got a list of them from a contributor to a motorcycle enthusiast list I belong to. (Thank you, Joe Dille, for sharing.) I’m sorry, I don’t know where he got the list.

Here are a few:

–     If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they’d eventually find me very attractive.
–     A man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation toward the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.
–     My wife and I were happy for twenty years; then we met.
–     Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they’re at home when you wish they were.
–     Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.
–     He who laughs last thinks slowest.
–     Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself type.
–     If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
–     Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let her sleep.
–     Money is the root of all wealth.

If you’re brave, see if you can think up a few and share in the comments.

PS. Wouldn’t you know, I just ran into an example of paraprosdokian in a comic, Moderately Confused by Jeff Stahler:

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Grammar and Motorcycles

rogersgeorge on February 14th, 2017

I happen to own a motorcycle, and I like motorcycling, so I guess that’s as good a reason as any to feature a motorcycle comic on Valentine’s Day. It was sent by my biker friend Jonathan Burt. I’m not sure where he got it.

The comic touches on a thought I’ve been meaning to post about for some time, but I’ve been waiting for a good example to make my point. This is it.

You can easily have more than one modifier in a sentence, and have them all refer to the same thing.

It can be tricky to decide what order to put those modifiers in. In fact the sentence above is an improvement over the first version of it that I wrote, which was

You can easily have more than one modifier in a sentence that refer to the same thing.

Does “that refer to the same thing” modify “sentence,” or does it modify “modifier”? It’s sitting right next to the word “sentence,” and the rule in English is that modifiers go as close to what they refer to as possible. But “sentence” is singular, and “refer” is plural. That can’t be right. I could have swapped the two modifying phrases and written:

You can easily have more than one modifier that refer to the same thing in a sentence.

But that still has the problem of “refer” being a plural verb sitting right next to a singular noun, “modifier.” It doesn’t sound right even though it is. (“More than one” is a plural.) So it’s a bad sentence either way. I solved the problem by making a compound sentence and doing some rewording.

Okay, that was a complicated example. Let’s go to the comic.

I saw a man riding a motorcycle with a broken leg.
I saw a man with a broken leg riding a motorcycle.

The rule about putting the modifier close to what it modifies works well with this sentence.

SO—when you have more than one modifier in your sentence, and they refer to the same thing, THINK!


Watch what you refer to

rogersgeorge on October 21st, 2011

Multinational corporations are understandably careful about how they use their logos. They are generally also paranoid about how others use their logos. Herein lies the context for today’s lesson, which is about referring to other places in your writing.

Recently BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle company (which predates their auto division, by the way), has begun enforcing standards for how BMW motorcycle clubs can use the distinctive BMW circular pattern in their club logos. Depending on the personality of the club, this ruling has created more or less of a stir among the members.

The BMW roundel. Am I being illegal to post this? Tell me so, BMW, and I'll take it down.

I happen to belong to both kinds of club. (Yes, simultaneously. See a recent post about using “both.”) Some clubs are like sheep, and they meekly go where they are told. However, imagine a bunch of motorcycle-riding extroverts being told that their club trademark isn’t good enough. Or is too good. Goats are not like sheep! After a lot of online and face-to-face discussion, one member presented a letter on the subject to send to the powers that be. The letter was very well written, and the discussion is ongoing, but one paragraph supplies the material for today’s lesson.

Part of the discussion included the possibility of the club withdrawing from the MOA and the RA, with many members reconsidering the value of their individual participation as well. Though regarded as extreme, the number of those willing to take this step was not insignificant.

Re-read that second sentence. Did you do a double-take? It looks as if the number is both extreme and not insignificant. This would, I suppose, always be true (We call this a tautology, and it’s related to the fallacy of begging the question, but I digress.). Shall we suspect, dear reader, that this writer does not mean to repeat himself? I gave you that first sentence so you could figure out what the writer meant. “Extreme” refers to withdrawal from the national organizations. Now it makes sense to connect the “not insignificant” with the number of people thinking about taking this extreme measure.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to re-write the sentence so its meaning is immediately clear.  My sincere thanks to the Mac-Pac Eating and Wrenching Society for supplying me with the material for today’s lesson, and I close with one of my cardinal rules for writing:

Bad writing must never be justified with the excuse that the reader will figure it out.

Beware of those homophones!

rogersgeorge on July 8th, 2010

I just read a review of a new BMW motorcycle, to be revealed this fall. The article was articulate and clear, and the writer was obviously familiar with motorcycles. But he gave us a good lesson on homophones by illustrating how not to use two of them. (He also got “comprise” wrong every time he used that word, but that’s another lesson.)

A homophone is a word that sounds exactly like another word, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning. Such as blue, the color, and blew, past tense of blow. Another famous example is there, their, and they’re. Puhleeze—get those right! Because the spelling is different, a wrong homonym is easy to spot, so it’s a really good way to betray your lack of grasp of English.

Here’s one from the article:

“So, without further adieu…”

He meant “without further ado.”  Adieu means farewell, and ado means, well, commotion. “Adieu” is even harder to spell than “ado.” And he had the title of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to guide him. I’m not sure why he went to all that work just to get it wrong.

Here’s the other:

“We have to make due for the moment with concept and design sketches seen here…” (BMW wouldn’t let him photograph the motorcycle.)

It’s “make do.” Both due and do have many meanings, but the correct word here is “do.”

I will say that it is an impressive motorcycle.

Bonus: If the words are spelled the same but have different origins, they are homographs (row a boat, lined up in a row), and if they are spelled the same but pronounced differently, they are heteronyms. (—a tear in some fabric, and a tear running down your cheek). Yes, you can have overlap. Depends on which dictionary you use, and who your English teacher was.