World of Words
A monthly blog of interesting words, phrases, and idioms. Like us on Facebook to receive new posts.
Paraprosdokian is a word which comes to us from Greek; it can be broken down into two parts:
para: beside or against
In the case of our word, we should use the meaning "against" for the prefix para. Thus, the word paraprosdokian means "against expectation." A paraprosdokian is a phrase or statement in which the conclusion of the statement causes you to rethink what was said in the first part of the statement -- often for a surprising or humorous effect.
A famous example of a paraprosdokian is Groucho Marx's statement which begins: "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening..." and then ends, "...but this wasn't it." The humor lies in the fact that, as Groucho begins his statement, you think he is saying that this was a wonderful evening, but with the addition of four more words, the meaning is completely changed, and we're left with the realization that he is implying that this was a perfectly horrendous evening.
Many comedians besides Groucho Marx made use of the paraprosdokian; for example, the following is attributed to Stephen Wright: "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car." The first part of the sentence conjures up the peaceful image of an elderly man lying peacefully on a bed with his eyes closed, and a clean white sheet tucked under his chin. Then the second half of the sentence comes, and the image abruptly changes to one of horror and mayhem. The surprising nature of the change in imagery makes us laugh, despite the imagery of carnage and wreckage.
When we took our first child to the pediatrician for one of his early well-child checkups, the doctor looked at him, then looked at me, and then said, "I can see he got his good looks from you..." In the brief pause she left before finishing her sentence, I was horrified that she would say such a thing with my wife standing right there. Then she finished: "...because your wife clearly still has hers." That was a paraprosdokian.
Incidentally, many haiku are paraprosdokians. One of the defining characteristics of haiku, which is often left out when being taught in western schools, is that the haiku is intended to present one image, and then cause the reader to rethink that image in the conclusion of the poem.
In this blog we tend to focus on less common words -- words like anomia and tendentious, which don't get used in everyday conversation. This month's word, however, is a more common word. You know what the word means, but you might not know its origin. The word is companionship.
Companionship can be defined as "the fellowship that exists among companions," or "the good feeling that comes from being with someone else." In other words, you have a feeling of companionship for someone you enjoy spending time with -- someone you call a friend.
But where does the word "companionship" come from? How does it break down? First, we can split it into "companion" and "ship." The suffix "-ship" means a "condition" or "office." In other words, companionship is the condition of being a companion.
But what about companion? Where does that come from? In Latin, the word "com" means "with," and "panis" means "bread" (from which the French get their word "pain" and the Spanish get "pan"). So a companion is someone you eat bread with, and companionship is the sense of well-being that comes from having someone to share bread with.
The word "companionship" is only 500 years old, but the concept has been around since the beginning of recorded history. Ancient literature is filled with concepts like "breaking bread together" as symbolism for friendship. The patriarch Abraham saw three strangers walking down the road by the Oaks of Mamre and ran to greet them, saying, "Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on."
Eating together: it is such a simple pleasure, yet it is a cornerstone of most relationship building -- both platonic and romantic.
And so, we leave you with this simple advertisement from "President's Choice": Eat Together.
You can't read a book or watch a movie about the seafaring life without running into the word landlubber. Maybe you've heard a definition of the word, or maybe you just inferred the definition from the context.
"Captain Jones, Governor Williams' son wants to join our crew."
"Ah, that there's a family of landlubbers; the boy won't know the difference between a rudder and galley."
From this you infer, correctly, that a landlubber is someone who doesn't know much about life aboard a ship. And, since the word is a compound word made up of land and lubber, you might infer -- also correctly -- that a landlubber is someone who has spent their whole life on land, and (in the eyes of the seafarers) should probably stay there.
But you might have gone a step further in your inferences and wondered, "What in the world is a lubber? Is that even a word?"
It is a word. And I thought I knew what it meant. You see, I've spent some time in South America, and was fascinated to notice that the letter B and the letter V are pronounced the same. "Oh!" I thought, "lubber is just a misspelling of lover! So a landlubber is someone who loves the land instead of the sea."
As I said, I thought I knew. It turns out I was completely wrong about the origin of the word.
Lubber is believed to come from an Old French word: lobeor. What did the word lobeor mean? A lobeor was a cheater or a swindler.
That knowledge puts a whole different twist on the meaning of the word landlubber. When Captain Jones called the Williams family a family of landlubbers, he wasn't just saying that they don't know anything about the seafaring life; he was also saying that, because they were not seafarers, they weren't to be trusted!
Nowadays, the word no longer carries that meaning. It simply means "a person unfamiliar with the sea or sailing." And the word lubber, by itself, means "a big, clumsy person." But there was a time when it was simply a way of saying, in effect, "You're not like us, so we don't trust you."
Sounds like our world today.
Have you ever used the word ineffable? Have you ever heard it used? The first time I stumbled across this word was while reading a poem by the 12th century abbot and poet Bernard de Clairvaux:
O Jesus, King most wonderful!
O Conqueror renowned!
O Source of peace ineffable,
In whom all joys are found.
The word "ineffable" simply means "too great to be expressed with words." So another way of saying that third line would be, "Source of indescribable peace."
As you would expect, since this word begins with the prefix "in," there is another English word which can be obtained by removing the prefix. That word is "effable." If ineffable means "too great to be expressed with words," you would probably guess -- and correctly so -- that effable means "not too great to be expressed with words," or simply, "describable."
What makes this interesting to me is that the original word, "effable," is far less common than the derived word, "ineffable."
How often have you heard the word "effable" used? I would be very surprised if you said that you hear the word "effable" more often than you hear the word "ineffable." After all, if something is describable, is there really any point to saying that it's describable? If it's describable, you just describe it, instead of mentioning the fact that it can be described!
According to Google's Ngram Viewer, when "effable" was at its most popular, "ineffable" was still about four times as popular. This happened in the early 1700s. In modern times, both words have declined in usage, but "effable" has declined much more than "ineffable." "Ineffable" is used approximately 100 times as often as effable.
Interestingly, the spell-checker I'm using while I type this blog post recognizes the word "ineffable," but tells me that I have a typo whenever I type "effable."
And since I have just described the word "ineffable," I guess we could conclude by saying that ineffable is effable.
It's now 2017, so it is time to present our 2016 Word of the Year. That's right; we're chosen a single word that we think represents 2016 perfectly.
The word is tendentious. When I hear this word, I automatically think of the word "contentious." Tendentious doesn't mean the same thing as contentious, but as you will see, tendentiousness tends to lead to contentiousness.
To be tendentious means that you are expressing or promoting a particular cause or point of view. It would be fair to say that being tendentious means that you are more interested in promoting a cause or view than in promoting what is true.
The root of tendentious is the word tendency. We have a tendency to accept and promote information that fits with our pre-existing viewpoints. An online thesaurus lists "prejudicial," "one-sided," and "partisan" as synonyms. "Biased" would be another synonym.
This has certainly been a perfect year for tendentiousness. Aside from the unavoidable bias implicit in the choice of what is important enough to print, this year has seen a massive proliferation of both right-wing and left-wing media sources that have absolutely no interest in posting anything that doesn't promote their pre-existing views. Did a liberal politician do something wonderful? Don't expect to see a word about it on any right-wing site. Did he do something horrible? Don't expect to read it in a left-wing source. (And by the way, if he did do or say something wonderful, right-wing media sources will find a way to take it out of context and make it sound horrible!) It's important for all of us to learn to notice and acknowledge this when it happens, even and especially when it happens on our own "side."
And it's not just corporate media. With the ever-increasing usage of social media platforms, every one of us is now a media source. We can't complain about "corporate media bias" when we are guilty of exactly the same sins -- to an even greater degree. We see tweets and Facebook memes and we assume they must be true solely on the basis that they fit our pre-existing notions. Since they fit our ideas, we automatically retweet or share, without a moment's hesitation or reflection. And certainly without any research.
Woe unto the social media user who decides to challenge these postings with a, "Wait a minute. That's not even true!" comment. The response to "that's not true" is almost always a variation on "but they make a good point," and a refusal to remove the false content from their personal media platform.
In one of the greatest ironies of the year, people who defend the importance of truth amidst the onslaught of media fiction seem to be just as often accused of tendentiousness. I find nothing more depressing than my friends on one side of the political spectrum claiming that concern about the proliferation of "fake news" is a partisan invention of the other side. In other words, opposition to tendentiousness is seen as tendentious.
All of this tendentiousness leads to more and more contentiousness.
After selecting our 2016 Word of the Year, we learned that the Oxford Dictionary has selected "post-truth" as its word of the year. We think our word and theirs fit well together.