Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Joy of Zeugma

It was a Friday afternoon at the Savile Club in Mayfair, after a splendid lunch on the common table where all and sundry gather and chat to friends and strangers alike over happy food and cheerful wine. One of our company repeated the old joke "she left in floods of tears and a taxi". And then - and those are the sort of chaps we are - we wondered what part of speech this might be. We were foxed. Sufficiently so, that after departing - against all advice - to go and buy a fridge at John Lewis's in Oxford Street just up the road, that I asked my friend the ingenious Robert Vilain, Christ Church man, professor of German, father of twins, and all-round good egg. A day or so later he came up with the answer - it's a zeugma, a Greek word for yoke, deriving from the practice of making two creatures which neither know nor like each other plough the same field, under the same orders.

And a few years later, I went to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in the back of a car, and a coma. I knew nothing about it at the time, but later on I knew I'd been in a zeugma.


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2014

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