I’m thinking in terms of phrases like:

You may be [one connotation of denotation x] but you’re not [contrasting connotation of denotation x].

Two examples are:

  • He may have been your father, but he wasn't your daddy.

    from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which contrasts two different words meaning male parent: father meaning a biological parent, and daddy meaning a father figure responsible for upbringing.

  • Just because you’re correct, it doesn’t mean you’re right.

    which contrasts factual correctness with moral rightness.

What I’m wondering is: does this kind of literary device have a name? Something less clunkier than ‘that thing Yondu said in GoTG2’? If not, does anyone have a suggestion how to call it?

  • 4
    Nice question! "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 16:00
  • 2
    Does this not simply fit the bill for "making a (detailed) distinction"? Not trying to be facetious, I just wonder if it's unusual enough to consider it a literary device.
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 16:02
  • I know it's your right to do this, but I still think it's wrong. In some contexts, it would be punning / wordplay, but in others it would be making a (detailed) distinction, as @Flater points out. Hardly a special "literary device" - just everyday use of English, in all contexts (written / spoken, formal / colloquial, etc.). Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 17:03
  • 1
    @Barmar: I thought OP meant things like People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. (From Simon and Garfunkel.) You couldn't do that without synonyms. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 18:57

3 Answers 3


paraprosdokian: a figure of speech in which the latter part of the sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part.

Using similar adjectives as contrast makes the audience think about the small differences between the two: biological vs. relational, in your example.


I'd also go for paraprosdokian. For some great, and often funny examples see http://www.economicnoise.com/2011/09/05/182-paraprosdokians/

  1. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

  2. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

  3. I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

  4. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.


I would say the phrase's overriding distinction is antithesis. At the same time, that the two concepts are distinct is not immediately obvious, indeed creates a surprise, sometimes humorous effect. That the distinction is so slight, the listener perceives the keen observation of the author, his or her sophistication, then by which we could tag it 'wit' or a 'witicism' (which is not a classical rhetorical device of course) I think it is a pun as well, a pun being a very wide-encompassing category.

At any rate rhetoric happens, it is a feature of human language that is not restricted to speech-making and essays as some posters here might suggest. It is the 'how' of a message, particularly the 'how' a message influence some desired outcome. It doesn't have to be deeply premeditated to be what it is.

Many text-book examples for the devices are indeed 'paradigm cases', but just as many on closer inspection reveal characteristics of other devices as well. The question becomes one of preponderance. In that simple classification something is lost, however, and in the examples given, too much would be lost to suffice a sole label. That is, of course, because none of us are aware of a specific named sub-set for the examples you have chosen. They are you might say the paradigm cases for a yet-unlabeled phenomenon. I think that means get to name it ;)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.