What’s a ‘zeugma’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: zeugma…

My favourite television show of all time remains the West Wing a political drama (1999 to 2006) about the fictitious Democratic presidency of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen). The stories are fascinating and complex and the acting is superb. And for reasons I can’t articulate, the show which is now 18 years from its launch date, remains fresh and current.

Six months ago, a good friend alerted me to West Wing Weekly, which is now my favourite podcast of all time. Bear with me. I know it sounds painfully self-referential to have an hour long podcast focusing on one hour of television. But the stories are just as fascinating and complex as the original show.

West Wing Weekly spends an hour each week examining a single episode from the West Wing, in chronological order. (So far, they are up to episode 15 of season two. Only 119 more episodes to go!) In addition to talking about directing, acting  and writing, (I loved the interview with show creator Aaron Sorkin a few months back) a chunk of the program focuses on politics. I appreciate the “we’re going to surprise you each week” aspect of the show.

What surprised me last week, was the way they introduced a word I didn’t know, zeugma. Co-hosts Joshua Malina Hrishikesh Hirway (pictured above) illustrated the term with some script from the show:

CJ: While I’m showing her support, what are you showing her?

Josh: I’m showing her the door. 

That’s a zeugma — a figure of speech in which a word — usually a verb or an adjective — applies to more than one noun, blending together grammatically and logically different ideas. The word comes from the Greek zeugma, meaning “that which is used for joining; a boat bridge.”

I won’t forget that term now. Thanks West Wing Weekly for increasing my vocabulary!