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Non Sequiturs in English

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I asked for a picture of an electric guitar and they sent me this.

Non Sequitur is a Latin phrase we use in English which means it does not follow.

It is mainly used to describe a statement which has nothing to do with what was said before.

For example, this is logical and sensible.

  1. Socrates was a man.
  2. All men are mortal.
  3. Therefore Socrates was mortal.

However, the last line here is a non sequitur:

  1. Socrates was a man.
  2. All men are mortal.
  3. Therefore the fish tank needs cleaning.

When used in language, it can often have a comedic effect. The humorous effect comes from jumping to a conclusion abruptly without following the basic rules of conversation.

Notable Non Sequiturs

The first recorded use of this expression dates back to 1540. Since then English has had its fair share of non-sequiturs and here are a few famous ones:

It tastes like somebody stole my wallet. – Gerard Way

If you ask, What is a non sequitur? And I say, “Blue love on a blue moon on Mr. Green’s greenback printing machine (the one that sounds like Weimar Germany in 1923)”, then I have given you an example of a non sequitur. But since you asked what a non sequitur was, the fact that I gave you a non sequitur as an answer means it most definitely is not a non sequitur, since it does follow logically. Because it is means that it isn’t. But because I gave you what you wanted, when you wanted what you didn’t want, then I didn’t give you what you wanted, thus giving you what you wanted. So it is a non sequitur, which means it isn’t. But since it isn’t, when you expected it to be one, signals that it is. So it is and it isn’t, all at the same time! – Jarod Kintz, A Story That Talks about Talking Is Like Chatter to Chattering Teeth, and Every Set of Dentures Can Attest to the Fact That No…

Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Fish.

She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight. – Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister.

Non Sequiturs in Logic & Everyday Life

In argument, non sequiturs simply mean an illogical statement which does not follow from the previous statement. The example of Socrates above includes a non sequitur and here are a few more:

You have a Mercedes so you are rich.

She is French therefore she likes French music.

You must be intelligent to go to university.

Washington is a violent city; if you go there you’ll be killed. Or stabbed.

In everyday life we all need to watch out for non-sequiturs as they can hide the truth and blind people to reality.

Useful Links

Anti-Word Association‏‎ – a classroom word game involving non sequiturs

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