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I was reading the wiki page about paraprosdokians and I don't understand why the phrase:

Take my wife – please!

is classified as one.

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"Take" can be used to mean "Consider .. for example". So, when the comedian says, "Take my wife," we presume he's going to tell some funny anecdote about his wife, for example, something like, "Some women spend so much time in front of the mirror! Take my wife – I don't understand how anyone can need three hours to get ready in the morning." But when the word "please" is tacked on instead, we realize he meant "take" in the sense of "take her away from me." Yes, it's a paraprosdokian. – J.R. Mar 14 '13 at 15:28
JR is correct. "take my wife" on that wiki page looks to be the only quote used without a context to force the expectation of meaning: the garden path has not been constructed. It is easy to see why the OP was perplexed. – horatio Mar 14 '13 at 16:08
it simply means consider my wife for a specific assignment or for particular field. But the fact we cannot apply this meaning alone as it can depend on the tone of the person and the incident he encounters with. it can also be abusive like taking the other persons wife merely for physical relation... – user59732 Dec 14 '13 at 9:57
+1. I've heard this joke many times and never understood the word play. I just thought it was a non-sequitur, and a mediocre one at that. – Patrick M Sep 5 '14 at 16:56
@PatrickM - your ease of understanding the joke also depends on how the joke is told - here's a clip of this particular joke's originator telling the joke which may help. – davidbak May 10 at 16:30
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Paraprosdokians are basically sentences and phrases with surprising endings that are so unexpected that it changes the expecting meaning of the early phrase. It basically plays on the double meaning of a particular word. In this case, it is the word take.

When take is used in the expression "Take my wife...", it is usually used as an instance or example in support of an argument: "let’s take Napoleon, for instance". Ending the phrase with "- please!", which is used to add urgency and emotion to a request, would change the expecting meaning of the early phrase, "take my wife", and therefore turning the entire expression into a paraprosdokian.

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The joke is certainly an example of a parawhatsitcalled. It is—as the OP's link notes—a famous one-liner by Henny Youngman. From his wiki:

Henny explained the origin of his classic line "Take my wife, please" as a misinterpretation: in the mid-1930s he took his wife to a show and asked the usher to escort his wife to a seat. But his request was taken as a joke, and Youngman used the line countless times ever after.

So, the OP isn't the only one who "didn't get it". The joke's author didn't either.

Then again, I suppose that it isn't as funny in writing as it is when a professional comedian delivers it (probably due to the fact that the strategic pause and inflexion are lost when written). Furthermore, when a comic says it, you are in many ways searching for and expecting the pay-off. Youngman, in particular was known for poking fun at his wife:

Youngman's wife, Sadie Cohen, was often the butt of his jokes ("My wife said to me, 'For our anniversary I want to go somewhere I've never been before.' I said, 'Try the kitchen!'", or "my wife's cooking is fit for a king. (gesturing as if feeding an invisible dog) Here King, here King!" Also, "Last night my wife said the weather outside was fit for neither man nor beast, so we both stayed home.") but in reality the two were very close, with Sadie often accompanying her husband on his tours.

"Take my wife—please!" is similar to the "I have your wife!"/"You can keep her" trope.

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+1 just for "parawhatsitcalled". :) – Marthaª Mar 14 '13 at 20:49

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