To be a really good lover, then, one must be strong and yet tender. How strong? I suppose being able to lift fifty pounds should do it.

  • Woody Allen

I am not asking specifically about the ludicrous lowering of the tone/importance of a word; I am asking about incongruously changing the meaning of a word or phrase in a latter sentence as pointed out in Jason’s answer.


1 Answer 1



A paraprosdokian (/pærəprɒsˈdoʊkiən/) is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists. Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but they also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a form of syllepsis.

In this case, when the word strong is read in the first sentence, it's taken in the sense of "steady" or "committed" (having emotional strength). It's only at the end of the joke that Allen switches its meaning to one of physical strength.

Groucho Marx had a famous example of this:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.

Note: I linked to the Wikipedia definition because its was the most extensive. Interestingly, the word doesn't have a definition in the online Merriam-Webster or Oxford dictionaries; nevertheless, Merriam-Webster does provide a definition in one of its blog posts. (It is obviously a "rare" word.)

  • Groucho's elephant and his penchant for paraprosdokians have been covered numerous times. May 20, 2018 at 11:25

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