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Paraprosdokians

If you can’t see the whole quote above, it says “I haven’t slept in ten days…because that would be too long.”  That’s the late, great comic Mitch Hedberg, who was the king of paraprosdokians. Look him up on YouTube. You’ll be showered with them by this hilarious guy who usually did his set with his eyes closed, but that’s a story for another time. A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected. It’s frequently a bastardization of some pithy or heartwarming saying. You’re set up to believe you’re about to get a lump in your throat and then…surprise! Below is a collection of famous paraprosdokians. • Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. • The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s...

Qualitative Noun Question Finally Answered

Perhaps you’ve been following the saga of Sushibox and the Case of the Confusing Qualitative Noun in the comments section. I searched high and low, and could find only information on Greek grammar and theological concepts. I finally went to the experts at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University, and posed Sushibox’s question to them. Below is their answer. Purely Qualitative nouns are more of a Greek grammatical concept than an English one; however, our research confirms that this concept does carry over into English. The final example you give is not, as you note, qualitative because “angelic” is an adjective. However, certain nouns can be purely qualitative with linking verb constructions, for example, “love is war,” “war is hell,” “God is love,” etc. In all these examples, the predicative nominative defines the quality...

Writing for Social Media

We love our social media, don’t we? Instead of isolating us like Will Smith in I Am Legend but without the CGI zombies, computers have given us a whole new set of friends, tweeps and link ups. From the anonymity of our cubicles, basements and dens, we can share our most intimate secrets with the whole world. We want to express ourselves, and now we have an outlet through which we can say whatever we want without consequences. Wait…what about that last part? Remember when you were a kid and you’d cover your eyes before you did something bad so no one could see you do it? A lot of folks are treating social media like a hand over their eyes — trashing bosses and colleagues, making fun of neighbors (and worse) and “saying” things they’d never say out loud in public. Well, guess what? There’s a 1000-watt Klieg light pointed directly at you...

Conan’s Pet Peeves

1. Alright. I don’t care what the hip new dictionaries say. It ain’t a word. The term is all right. Two words. Period. 2. The limeys have staged a revolt and are putting periods and commas outside of quotation marks, like so: The article, entitled “How to Shave Your Cat”, has engendered much controversy. The sentence read, “Gravel and peanuts for supper”. “On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero”, says Tyler Durden. No, no, no! You can see it’s all wrong, those commas and periods hanging out in space all alone, no life preserver, no hope of rescue. Bring them inside quotation marks and out of the weather. You don’t want them to get wet. 3. All the sudden instead of the correct “all of a sudden.” I’ve actually seen this one in print, and it sickens me. “All the...

Infinitives, Split and Otherwise

Dear Conan, I have a question about splitting infinitives. I was reading an article online and it struck me that the sentence “So you clearly have to state you want none” conveys to me that it is obvious that you should state you want none. Am I parsing the sentence incorrectly? It would seem that the sentence would make more sense, and be easier to read as “So you have to clearly state you want none”, or maybe “So you have to state clearly that you want none.” I suppose I should contact the author and see if he ends up blaming the editor (don’t they always) or can explain himself. But your answer will probably be much more entertaining. Best regards, MA __________________________ Dear MA, (Cue Twilight Zone theme music…) Okay, that was weird. I was actually sitting here putting together the latest issue and thinking to myself,...

Malapropisms

Malapropisms. The word itself makes my heart sing…so symmetrical and full of whimsy. But the concept is deadly. What is a malapropism? Well, it came from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals. This character routinely mistook one word for another, and the resulting language was pretty comical. When the average person uses a malapropism in speech or writing, the result is typically high hilarity and a severe dip in his/her “take me seriously” quotient. Usually, a malapropism is used because it sounds a lot like the correct word. Witness: The priest turned to the couple and asked the bride, “Do you take Herbert to be your loftily wedded husband?” Or “You’ve got to help me get these people to act,” said the middle manager. “They won’t budge. The problem is, they don’t understand the brevity of...