Paraprosdokians and a Healthy Memory

Probably the first question is, “what is a paraprosdokian?” A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that caused the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. Here are some examples1:

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

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

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

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

So what do paraprosdokians have to do with a healthy memory? First of all, the show how your memory processes sentences. It is doing it bit by bit constructing a meaning which leads you to expect a certain kind of ending. A paraprosdokian leads you to a different meaning, hopefully humorous, than you expected. So picture what is happening to your brain, certain circuits are being activated, but new circuits must be found to interpret the meaning correctly, and, we hope, appreciate a joke. So it is this activation of memory circuits that can foster memory health.

Now we can think of two ways of processing paraprosdokians. We’ll call one passive because it simply involves reading or hearing a paraprosdokian. Of course, active processing by your brain is required to interpret the paraprosdokian correctly, and, we hope, get the joke.

A second way of processing paraprosdokians we shall call active. This is when you create a new paraproprosdokian. Now this places special demands on your brain circuits and creativity, but it can lead to your perception as a humorous individual who can make friends and influence people.

This activity is similar to punning, but it is less demanding and much less likely to elicit groans than puns do.

Feel free to enter any new paraprosdokians as comments.

1http://www.economicnoise.com/2011/09/05/182-paraprosdokians/

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