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Zeugma October 22, 2016

Posted by Ronica Stromberg in Uncategorized.
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I’m a word nerd. I love language and playing with words but also understanding the rules of usage and the logic behind them. Who else would enjoy reading grammar books? I confess I’ve read somewhere between 20 and 30 of them. So, it was with great excitement I recently read in a grammar book about zeugma. This was a term I’d never heard before, but it seems to me it should be a subtopic of parallel construction.

A zeugma is a grammatical expression in which a single word is forced to apply to multiple parts of a sentence even though it is grammatically or logically correct only for one of them. The following is an example:

The grammar, punctuation, and spelling were terrific, the writing awful.

The problem with this sentence is that the verb “were” has been dropped in the second part of the sentence, but it should never be used there anyway. “The writing were awful” is obviously grammatically incorrect. The sentence could be corrected this way:

The grammar, punctuation, and spelling were terrific; the writing was awful.

Excited about this new word for a grammatical concept, I googled “zeugma” and found, on Wikipedia, a more thorough explanation of not only zeugma but syllepsis, diazeugma, hypozeugma, prozeugma, and mesozeugma.

I have a new respect for Wikipedia.

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