Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Zeugma (1).

Zeugma (1). Today: Witty Uses. This figure of speech, literally a “yoking together,” involves a word’s being a part of two constructions. Sometimes it results in a grammatical error, but sometimes it’s simply a felicitous way of phrasing an idea. For example, sometimes a verb or preposition is applied to two other words in different senses, often figuratively in one sense and literally in the other, as in “she took her oath and her seat.” Often, the phrasing is both purposeful and humorous — e.g.: o “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Groucho Marx, as quoted in Jim Shea, “Groucho Speaks,” Hartford Courant, 18 Aug. 1997, at E1. (“Flies” is used in two senses; so is “like.”) o “I just blew my nose, a fuse, and three circuit breakers.” (A character on “The Jim Henson Hour,” 16 July 1989.) o “We would venture out into the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas, where we found king mackerel and serenity.” Cactus Pryor, “He Called Me Puddin’,” Tex. Monthly, Feb. 1992, at 101, 134. o Notice the title: “Cruel Flood: It Tore at Graves, and at Hearts,” Isabel Wilkerson, N.Y. Times, 26 Aug. 1993, at A1. o “You held your breath and the door for me.” Alanis Morissette, “Head over Feet” [song] (1995). o “He turned my life and this old car around.” Sara Evans, “Three Chords and the Truth” [song] (1997). Next: Erroneous Uses. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “The teacher and the printing-press are the great supporters of linguistic tradition.” Henry Alexander, The Story of Our Language 16 (1940; repr. 1962).
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