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Word of the Day : January 26, 2016

zeugma

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noun ZOOG-muh

Definition

: the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words in such a way that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one (as in "opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy")

Examples

A clever use of zeugma was demonstrated by Groucho Marx's character Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933):"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff."

"The hallmarks of [David Foster Wallace's] later fiction … are there from the first page…. So, too, are the performative contractions ('w/r/t' as 'with respect to'), lists and self-conscious rhetorical tropes that pepper non-fiction. I don't think anyone has ever wielded zeugma with such knowing playfulness." — Jon Day, The Financial Times, 26 Dec. 2014



Did You Know?

"Zeugma, like the pun, is economical: it contracts two sentences into one . . .; it links unrelated terms—mental with moral, abstract with physical, high with low—and thus generates surprise," wrote Walter Redfern in Puns (1984). Zeugma, which has been a part of the English language since the 15th century, comes from Greek, where it literally means "joining." The Greek word has another connection to English as well. In the early 1970s, a chemistry professor named Paul Lauterbur developed a technique for producing images of internal organs. He called it zeugmatography because it involved the joining of magnetic fields. Lauterbur was awarded a Nobel Prize, but the name he chose didn’t stick. The technique is known today as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

Test Your Memory

Fill in the blank in this sentence from our December 22nd Word of the Day: "Amber _______ about going to the flea market when I first brought up the idea, but she seemed to enjoy herself thoroughly once we were there."

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