For Love of Zeugma

My pal Laurel Snyder linked me to a shaggy dog story about a guy giving a school chaplain a hard time. I’m reluctant to link to it because some potential readers might take offense, if not at the story, at the accompanying illustration. OK, you’ve been warned. Here it is. The opinions and gestures at that linked page do not necessarily reflect those of the weblog author and linker, etc.

I’m only bringing it up because I enjoyed one line in particular, to wit:

“She left the [theater] in tears and the audience in silence.”

This is a perfect example of zeugma, a literary trick where one word serves two clauses. It can be simple, like saying “At the bookstore I went straight to the magazines, she to the new releases,” but it becomes a lot more fun when you mix two meanings of the same word, as above. These are easy to come by in sports headlines, such as the apocryphal:

“Peterson breaks rushing record, collar bone.”

Or the too easy:

“Belle hits three homers, fan.”

The zeugma was a favorite of E.B. White, who wrote of his dog:

“When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.”

I like a few examples from the Wikipedia page, which also informs me that this use of zeugma is called “syllepsis.”

“[H]’e hastened to put out the cat, [t]he wine, his cigar and the lamps.” – Michael Flanders

“Are you getting fit or having one?” – M*A*S*H (I believe this was Hawkeye to Winchester, who is exercising)

You can get really coy when you use homonyms with different pronunciations:

“I resent the check, but also the implications that I lied about the first.”

Or play with grammatical constructs:

“I tend to my garden in the morning, and nap in the afternoon.”

A good sylleptic zeugma is hard to find! Please post your own, either found or made up on the spot.

2 thoughts on “For Love of Zeugma

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