z: Time and the Mailman (Reader Comments)

Jim Moskowitz suggests "He missed his wife and the train."

Pierre Abbat contributes a Biblical quotation: "Eutychus fell asleep from a third story window." (Acts 20:9) He adds:

"By the way, the plural of zeugma is zeugmata, not zeugmae. Nouns ending in -ma in Greek, -men in Latin, -mya in Russian, and -man in Sanskrit (and even a few in English, like name and time, though we've lost the declension) are all the same declension, adding t or n (depending on the language) to make the stem." Cool! I like "zeugmata" better anyway.

Danny Fahs has sent me the longest set of comments/additions I've yet received on a column (um, btw, this isn't meant as a challenge to others), consisting of a few hundred marvelous examples of zeugma. Only he also tells me that (according to a linguistic devices page) this isn't zeugma at all, but syllepsis. Syllepsis, it seems, is when the overloaded verb could be correctly used in a different sense with each of its objects; zeugma properly refers to the mistake of using two objects one of which doesn't make sense in the sentence. (I'm a little hazy on this, so I may be mis-describing it.) I think, for example, that it would be zeugma to say "He handed her the documents and free reign," since the verb doesn't really go with the second object; whereas a corresponding syllepsis might be "He gave her the documents and free reign." Worth noting, though, that Webster's on the Web says "zeugma" can refer to either of those items (syllepsis or zeugma), so I guess it just depends on how precise you want to be.

By the way, I should've noted that zeugma (in either sense) can refer to any part of speech (not just a verb). Danny provided a few very cool non-verb zeugmas (zeugmae?); they're scattered about in the list below.

He also asked how to categorize these sentences, which each have two totally different meanings:

  • She threw a ball.
  • The scientist described a circle.

I think those are cool—they're sort of compacted zeugma. You could say "She threw a ball and a ball" or "The scientist described a circle and a circle," but that would appear redundant... Another example: "The cat was put out."

Danny also provided this sentence: "At long last the war was over by the teakettle." He added, "This one doesn't seem to quite follow the rules of your game!" No, it doesn't. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. But it's kinda interesting.

Anyway, on to Danny's syllepses (with an apology for not posting them a month ago when he first sent them, and a few of my additions mixed in):

They abandoned all pretense and their cat.
He accepted his fate and the award.
The men advanced under the command of Sergeant Snorkel, the cover of darkness, and the enemy's noses.
She was against the wall and abortion.
He aimed to please and at the target.
He answered the phone, the question, and to "Bill".
She applied child psychology, the brakes, a second coat of paint, and for a loan.
She arranged the flowers and for her mail to be forwarded.
He was arrested by her beauty and the cops.
He assumed a new identity and that they would never catch him now.
There was an atmosphere of excitement and oxygen.
He backed up the singer and out the door.
He backed up his data, the hallway, the truck, and the lead singer.
He baked a cake and in the sun.
She banked at First National and to the left.
He battled with the Mongols and abandon and a longsword.
He beat the odds and the horse.
He bent the rules and the silverware.
She was beyond caring and the hedges.
He billed himself as "The Amazing Linguini" and his customers $10 each.
She bled from the cut and me dry.
He blew his nose and her off.
He blew away his rivals and the piece of hair that kept falling in front of his face.
He blocked the door and out a plan.
He boarded the train and up the windows.
She bobbed her hair and up and down.
He bolted the door and off.
He bored a hole and his relatives.
He bore a hole and himself proudly.
[Jed: Isn't that "bored a hole"?]
He was bound to think of a solution soon and tightly to the bed.
The alien breathed deeply and nitrogen.
She brings out the best in me and the coffee.
He broke his promises and his glasses.
They broke up and down.
[Jed: ...and out!]
He broke up with laughter and Jenny.
He broke into song and the vault.
This is the city of broken dreams and windows.
[Jed: adjective syllepsis! Reminds me of the Alan Moore line "They say that there's a broken light for every heart on Broadway..."]
He was like a broken man and record.
He brought up an interesting point and the luggage.
She brushed her hair and him off.
They bugged each other and 007's suite.
She built herself a reputation and a birdhouse.
The casino was burned into his memory and down to the ground.
He called the wind Maria and his bookie.
He was called John and to dinner.
I call upon the Power of Greyskull and Mrs. Astor every afternoon at tea time.
He called for reform and free.
He came into money and the bedroom and Maria.
[DF: Variant on one of the "less suiteds"]
They came to Hollywood and be in the movies and despise each other and blows and no good.
She came around to his point of view and the front of the house.
They camped in Yosemite and it up.
He cancelled his appointments and the stamp.
They canned the fish and the program.
Darth Vader captured the audience's imagination and Princess Leia.
She carded wool and underage drinkers.
He cared for the injured child and little for spinach.
He carried the polls and a lunch box.
He carried off the attempt and the prize.
She cast aspersions, lots, iron, a play, a spell, a shadow, a net, about, and off.
He cast off his chains and from the pier.
She changed her mind and the baby.
He charged to the front of the store, his purchase, and batteries.
He chewed gum and her out.
They circled the wagons and the correct answers.
He cleaned the windows and Bob's clock.
He cleared the landing, his name, and his sinuses.
He climbed in the polls and the window.
He clung to his beliefs and the handrail.
He collected his wits and stamps.
He combed his hair and the personal ads.
[Jed: I'm sure there's a pun to be made along the lines of "He pored over the newspaper and the pancakes," but I'm not quite sure what it is.]
He committed the poem to memory and the criminal to life in prison.
He was committed to their goals and to the asylum.
He composed himself and operas.
He confused San Diego with San Jose and his wife.
He was consumed with grief and by a tiger.
She carefully controlled her expression and her car.
She converted the file and to Mormonism.
They cooled their heels and their soup.
He cornered the runaway and the market.
[Jed: ...and on two wheels.]
He counted himself lucky and his spare change.
He knew he could count on 007 and his fingers.
He courted disaster and Peggy.
The book covered the period from the Civil War until the Turn of the Century and a nasty stain on the coffee table.
He cracked the vase, the code, open the window, and up.
[Jed: ...and a joke. (or wise)]
He crammed into the tight seat and for an exam.
He crashed the computer and at Joe's.
He creamed the opposition and his coffee.
He cropped the pictures and up from time to time.
She crushed his feelings and ice.
He would always try to curry favor and rice.
He cut his finger, the cards, a scene from his book, short the conversation, his class, a caper, a fine figure of a man, corners, in line, and the cheese.
His socks were darned carefully and unattractive.
He dated Mary and the specimen.
He was decked out in leather and by the bouncer.
[DF: Have you noticed how much fighting slang has appeared on this list?]
He was in deep thought and water.
She derived a proof and satisfaction.
He differentiated the equation and between zeugmas and syllepses.
He doubled the dosage and as a musician.
[Jed: ...and down, and up, and maybe even out.]
She dominated the conversation and her leather-fetish friend, Billy.
It was done in his office and by the end of the day.
He drew a picture, a salary, a gun, closer, and a crowd.
He drilled a hole and his men.
He dropped by, his hat in a chair, off the new plans, hints, acid, to the floor, out of sight, and off to sleep.
He drove her to drink and Cleveland.
I dub thee Sir Cumflex and Japanese anime.
He ducked his responsibilities and under the bridge.
He dug a hole and that funky chick.
They were engaged in heated debate and to marry.
She entertained her guests and an idea.
He escaped Alcatraz and notice.
There was no escape for Dan or his keyboard.
[DF: Okay, that's really stretching! ]
He executed the plan and the prisoners.
She gave him express privileges and mail.
They faced defeat, off, and West.
The teacher failed his student and his driving test.
He was fed mashed potatoes and up.
They fell about laughing and ten feet.
The house fell into disrepair and the ravine.
He fell from grace and the ladder.
He felt terrible and a rat run across his shoe.
He felt excited and her body pressing against him and her up.
He fenced the jewels, in the yard, and wielding a new foil.
The slave fetched the donkey and a high price at auction.
He figured out the riddle and in her schemes.
She filed a complaint and her nails.
He filled the position and the cookie jar.
It was a fine day and of ten dollars.
[Jed: adjective/noun syllepsis.]
He fired the guns and pottery and his cook.
He fixed his bookshelf and the election.
He flashed the lantern and the unsuspecting old ladies.
He was flat broke and footed.
She flew into a rage, off the handle, and home to Mother.
He flipped pancakes and for her.
He floored them and his car.
He followed instructions and pro basketball.
He forged ahead and a sword.
[Jed: "What's that in the road, a head?"]
They formed a quorum, a committee, and a concept.
They fought tooth-and-nail and oppression.
He found it hard to breathe and a large seashell.
She framed a question and a print.
He fretted fitfully and the guitar.
He froze in his tracks and leftovers.
She frustrated the attempt and her husband.
The attendant fueled her desire and her car.
He gave a lecture, a present, and his all.
He was in a gay mood and porn video.
He was getting into Dungeons & Dragons, the car, and trouble.
He had graduated cylinders and from college.
[DF: I remember thinking in high school how silly it was that the beakers and such in our chemistry class were graduated, yet still in high school.]
He grooved the sides of the drawer and to the beat.
[DF: I'm having difficulty thinking names of mechanical parts that are typically grooved to fit with other things. If you can think of something better, don't hesitate to change this one.]
She was in the habit of praying daily and of a nun.
They hammered out a working relationship and the dents.
Chitty-chitty-bang-bang handled well and the crooks.
He was hatching a plot and the background of his drawing.
He held her responsible, tightly, hand, and up.
[DF: meaning of "her" switches as well as meaning of "held".]
He held a meeting and a hammer.
She held back her disgust and her students.
They held several meetings and opinions.
She had high hopes and boots.
They were hip specialists and to her jive.
He hung up the phone and around the 7-11.
They hung out, their heads, and the outlaw.
He hung around and 10.
He interrupted the flow and his wife.
He joined the army and the pieces to the puzzle.
She jumped to conclusions and safety.
He kept pigeons and cool.
He kept time, to himself, horses, and looking around nervously.
He kicked the ball, back, around a few ideas, the habit, and the bucket.
Adam knew he had sinned and Eve his wife.
She knit a sweater and her brow.
He knocked on the door, him out, and her up.
The boss laid it on and her off.
He leant an air of dignity to the proceedings and $20 to his brother.
He led the queen of diamonds, a prayer, and soldiers.
They were left alone in the room, $5000 each in the will, and of center in their politics.
He licked his lips and his opponent.
[Jed: ...and his opponent's lips... oh, wait, that belongs in the Twiddlers list.]
The crook lifted the lid and then the jewels.
They lined the streets and their jackets.
[DF: Hmm. Meaning may be too close here.]
She listed her groceries and to the right.
[Jed: Was this after she banked?]
He lit a match and out of there.
He lit up and out.
[DF: Similar to an earlier one, but with an elegance inspired by "broke".]
He lived on the edge and in Seattle.
He logged his observations and the forest.
He lost the race, his way, track of time, and a shoe.
She made hasty decisions and puddings.
He made up the bed, an excuse, and with Joan.
They made Beany Babies and millions.
He managed a farm and to escape the bandits.
It was a match made in heaven and of tennis.
He met the requirements and the boss.
She minded the store and when people said she was fat.
He missed his girlfriend and the train.
He motioned to adjourn and the pretty girl.
He mounted his horse and the bass he had caught.
She was moved to tears and the front of the line.
It was a narrow escape and door.
He nodded yes and off.
She was off limits, her rocker, her medication, and to the fair.
He was offered a blindfold and in sacrifice.
They opened for the Cure and a restaurant.
He was well known for his open mind and sores.
He was over her, his head, and at Mark's.
He paid attention, a visit, and his bill.
He panned the camera, and for gold, and the movie.
They parted tenderly and their hair.
He passed the test, the bookshop, gas, and on.
She perished the thought and in the war.
[Jed: Does "perish the thought" ever have an explicit subject?]
He picked a card, a lock, at his food, a flower, and his nose.
He pinned his hopes on this match and his opponent to the mat.
He planted a suggestion and roses.
He played Hamlet and records.
He was plotting revenge and his data.
He plucked up his courage and the chickens.
She pointed out the landmarks and of the window.
She polished the silverware and off her dinner.
He popped the question, a balloon, the cork, her in the jaw with the cork, and into the kitchen for some ice.
He practiced abstinence and the piano.
She pressed his hand gently, her advantage, and his shirts.
He proceeded to shake her hand and on down the street.
We need more programs of reform and in Perl.
He projected confidence and a slide show.
He pulled a rabbit out of the hat, a fast one, and a muscle.
He punched the ticket and Bob.
The editor punched up the column and out his rival.
He pushed to the front of the line and the button.
He was pushing 30 and drugs.
The Grand Inquisitor put the town to the sword and the mayor to the question.
[—Jed] [Or did he put the question to the mayor?]
He puzzled his friends and out the solution.
He quartered the apple and his guests.
[Jed: I particularly love syllepses in which the verb could mean the same thing for all objects, but you rather hope it doesn't.]
She raised her hand and some important issues.
They raised their glasses, their prices, and a few eyebrows.
They ran the company, the race, amuck, and the news story.
She ran him through and through the parking lot.
He rapped on MTV and the door.
He rated the movies and a private office.
He realized he was wrong and his goal.
Congress and the paneling were recessed.
He was reduced to the size of a penny and tears.
Vlad reflected on the day's events, but not in a mirror.
Captain Kirk reformed the planet's government and on the transporter pad.
He reigned over his subjects and in his horse.
I was relieved of duty and to hear you say that.
He remarked the exams and on the futility of existence.
There were reports from the newscaster and the guns.
[Jed: noun syllepsis! ]
He repulsed the attack and everyone that looked at him.
He rested on his laurels and Sunday.
He rifled the bore and through the drawers of the desk.
He ripped out, off, and up pages from the illuminated manuscript.
He rolled out of bed and snake eyes.
She sat on a panel, a chair, and her duff.
She saved the drowning child and newspaper clippings.
I saw wood and a movie.
[DF: Tense shift! ]
He scaled the cliff and the fish.
She scared away some crows and up some grub.
He scored the glass, the exams, and later that night with Betty.
The Commander scrambled the fighters and his eggs.
He screwed up the assignment, over his partner, and his partner's wife.
[DF revision of one from the column]
The restaurant was full of seasoned veterans and curries.
He served his country and dinner.
The landscaper made shady deals and garden paths.
They sharpened their wits and their pencils.
He shook uncontrollably and hands.
He shot his neighbor and a film.
He showed promise and up.
He showed no sign of remorse and Terminator 2.
Rick Moranis shrank back and the kids.
He shuffled the deck and over to the bar.
She signed the form and to her deaf friend.
She skipped rope and class.
He slept on the proposal and the bed.
He slipped in the puddle, a disk, and in the polls.
She smelled danger and nice.
My dog smells with his nose and awful.
He snitched some donuts and on his partner.
They were spaced regularly and out.
He spelled "colour" with a "u" and the driver for a bit.
He spied a phone booth and for the CIA.
They split the vote and their seams and to the beach.
He sponged off the table and of his roommate.
She spread rumors, herself too thin, and the blanket.
He sprung the prisoners, to his car, and a leak in his gas tank.
The spider spun a web and around.
He stamped the letter "urgent", out his cigarette, and out of the room.
When the gun went off, the race and the nervous onlooker started.
He stayed his hand and home.
He stepped up security and the stairs.
He stirred his drink, from his chair, and up trouble.
They stood by their principles and the door.
She stood on ceremony and her feet.
She stood for something and hours.
The rolling bottle was stopped before it fell off the table and with a cork.
He looked straight ahead and when he wasn't wearing his pink triangle earring.
He strengthened his resolve and his muscles.
She stripped him of his preconceptions and his clothes.
She stripped down and the furniture.
He struck his opponent, out a mistake, and up a tune.
The baseball players struck out and for more money.
He was struck by her beauty and purse.
He felt strung along and out.
She stuck him with the bill and a pin.
She styled herself an actress and her friend's hair.
I subscribe to the belief that all men are created equal and Newsweek.
He sucked in his gut and math.
He suffered from shortness of breath and fools gladly.
She swept into his arms and under the table.
Howard Stern swore off alcohol and on the radio.
She was taken with Herbert and for a ride.
She was taken aback and away.
My client takes the fifth and the cake.
She knew she had tangled with the wrong man and the clothesline.
I taped the package shut and Xena: Warrior Princess.
They tapped their toes and the beer barrel.
He had tasted defeat and chicken.
[DF: I think some of the funniest of these occur when you combine an abstract concept and a concrete object.]
He telegraphed his punches and the hotel.
He tended bar and to jump to conclusions.
It was a tender moment and steak.
She tested the door and high on standardized tests.
The plot and the pudding thickened.
She threw up her hands, on a coat, away the eggshells, out her back, a fit, and up.
[Jed: a garden-path syllepsis! Seems for the first couple objects that "threw up" is the overloaded term, but it turns out to be just "threw"...]
He threw out the first ball, the irate fan, his back, and his program.
He threw the ball and the game.
She was through fooling around and the door.
He thumbed his nose and through the dictionary.
He thumbed his nose and a ride.
The clock ticked away and me off.
They tied the knot and the game.
He tipped his drink over and the waiter.
I was tipped off and over.
He took one look, time, a train, an oath, a bath, in his pants, and them for all they were worth.
[Jed: "took in his pants" took me a minute to parse...]
He took one look, time, some measurements, a trip, a train, the road less travelled, an oath, a bath, a hint, up acting, lessons, notes, care, it seriously, to it like a fish to water, Broadway by storm, some getting used to, the cake, his job and shoved it, them around, her out, in a movie, in laundry, in his pants, in his hosts, off his hat, up the carpet, out the trash, drugs, the silverware, the fifth, them on, them to task, them by surprise, them off the program, over, a fall, and off.
He took it down, him on, it on, him down, it out, her out, it in, them in, it up, them over, her up on it, them around, and it off.
[DF: Short form with just pronouns and prepositions]
He tore up the street and the contract.
He tossed off a rejoinder and back his drink.
She totalled the figures and her car.
She touched my heart and my elbow.
The dog tracked the rabbit and mud into the house.
He trained boxers and his gun on her.
The doctor treated his nurse to lunch and his patient.
They tried the thief and the cheesecake.
The judge tried to forget and two murderers.
[Jed: see above.]
She tripped into the room and on the hem of her dress.
[DF: Another old joke.]
The cleric turned the zombie, his staff in his hands, off his flashlight, over a new leaf, away, and into a frog.
He twisted the knob and the night away.
She made an underhanded comment and serve.
He upset the wagon and the children to tears.
I used chopsticks and to live in Virginia.
[DF: How well this works depends on your accent.]
He moved quickly to protect his vital secrets and organs.
He volunteered an answer and at the bake sale.
They waited on their lord and in the antechamber.
The story and the child didn't wash.
She wasted away and electricity.
They weighed the cargo and the anchor.
[DF: Old joke.] [Jed: "They folded their tents like Arabs, and as silently stole the cargo and away."]
He whipped them into shape and cream.
Whoppers were told and eaten at the monthly liar's club meeting held in the local Burger King.
He wiped the windows and out.
They were wired for sound and from the coffee.
He wore a tie and a hole through his shoe.
He worked the controls and the night shift.
He wound up the meeting and his watch.
He was wrapped in a towel and around her finger.
He wrote on Lincoln and a piece of paper.
[no X]
The journalism and the crayon it was written in were yellow.
[—Jed, 'cause Y was missing.]
He zipped around town and up his pants.

"You held your breath and the door for me." —Alanis Morissette, "Head Over Feet," or so I'm told.

(Last updated: 1 September 1997)

Back to column z

One Response to “z: Time and the Mailman (Reader Comments)”

  1. Jed

    Happened across another example in a song last night:

    “The score and her tongue were both tied.” —from John McCutcheon’s song “The Reason I’m Here.”


Join the Conversation