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Title: Apophasis  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Glossary of rhetorical terms, Apophysis, Music without sound, The lady doth protest too much, methinks, Logic
Collection: Figures of Speech, Logic, Rhetorical Techniques
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Apophasis is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up.[1] Accordingly, it can be seen as a rhetorical relative of irony. Also called paralipsis (παράλειψις) – also spelled paraleipsis or paralepsis –, or occupatio,[2][3][4][5] and known also as praeteritio, preterition, cataphasis (κατάφασις), antiphrasis (ἀντίφρασις), or parasiopesis (παρασιώπησις), apophasis is usually employed to make a subversive ad hominem attack, which makes it a frequently used tactic in political speeches to make an attack on one's opponent. Using apophasis in this way is often considered to be bad form.

The device is typically used to distance the speaker from unfair claims, while still bringing them up. For instance, a politician might say, "I don't even want to talk about the allegations that my opponent is a drunk." It can also be used in denying such claims entirely, for example by saying "I'm sure that my opponent is not lying; however, his grasp of the facts seems to be shaky."[6]


  • Name 1
  • Proslepsis 2
  • With proper names 3
  • Examples 4
    • Political 4.1
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The word is Late Latin, from Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι apophemi,[7] "to say no".[8]


When paralipsis is taken to its extreme, then proslepsis occurs, whereby the speaker provides full details stating and/or drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over; for example, "I will not stoop to mentioning the occasion last winter when our esteemed opponent was found asleep in an alleyway with an empty bottle of vodka still pressed to his lips."[9]

Paralipsis was often used by Cicero in his orations. For example:

"Obliviscor iam iniurias tuas, Clodia, depono memoriam doloris mei" ("I now forget your wrongs, Clodia, I set aside the memory of my pain [that you caused].")
— Cicero, "Pro Caelio", Chapter 50
"It would be superfluous in me to point out to your lordship that this is war."
— Charles Francis Adams, U.S. Ambassador to Britain, dispatch to Earl Russell, 5 September 1863, concerning Britain's relations with the Confederacy.
"Ssh," said Grace Makutsi, putting a finger to her lips. "It's not polite to talk about it. SO I won't mention the Double Comfort Furniture Shop, which is one of the businesses my fiance owns, you know. I must not talk about that. But do you know the store, Mma? If you save up, you should come in some day and buy a chair."

As a rhetorical device it can serve various purposes which are often dependent on the relationship of the speaker to the addressee and the extent of their shared knowledge. Apophasis is rarely literal; instead, it conveys meaning through implications that may depend on this context. As an example of how meaning shifts, consider the English phrase "needless to say." Literally it invokes shared understanding, yet its actual meaning will depend on whether that understanding was really shared. The speaker is alleging that it's not necessary to say something because the addressee already knows it, but do they? If they do, it may merely emphasize a pertinent fact. If it is true but the knowledge is weighted with history, it may be an indirect way of levying an accusation ("needless to say, because you are responsible"). If the addressee does not actually already possess the knowledge, then it may be a way to condescend: the speaker suspected as much but wanted to call attention to the addressee's ignorance. Conversely it could be a sincere and polite way to share necessary information which the addressee may or may not know without implying that the addressee is ignorant.

An example of this last type of paralipsis/paralepsis — where it serves to politely avoid suggestion of ignorance — is found in the narrative style of Adso of Melk in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, where the character fills in details of early fourteenth-century history for the reader by stating it is unnecessary to speak of them.[10]

With proper names

When it is taboo to speak of an entity by name, an epithet or sobriquet can be used in place of the name. For example, when it was forbidden in Myanmar to speak the name of political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, she was commonly referred to as "The Lady". Various names of God in Judaism are used to avoid writing or speaking sacred names. The name of the fictional Lord Voldemort in the popular Harry Potter universe is taboo, and he is commonly referred with epithets such as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" and "You-Know-Who".



In 1988, President Ronald Reagan said of Michael Dukakis, a presidential candidate who was rumored to have received psychological treatment, "Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid."[11]

In 2015, Donald Trump said of fellow Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, "I promised I would not say that she ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground."[12]

See also


  1. ^ Baird, A. Craig; Thonssen, Lester (1948). "Chapter 15 The Style of Public Address". Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal. Ronald Press Co. p. 432. 
  2. ^ Kathryn L. Lynch (2000). Chaucer's Philosophical Visions. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 144–.  
  3. ^ Anthony David Nuttall (1980). Overheard by God: fiction and prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St. John. Methuen. p. 96. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Fārūq Shūshah; Muḥammad Muḥammad ʻInānī (al-Duktūr.) (2003). Beauty bathing in the river: poems. Egyptian State Pub. House (GEBO). p. 19. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  5. ^ K. V. Tirumalesh (1999). Language Matters: Essays on Language, Literature, and Translation. Allied Publishers. p. 113.  
  6. ^ Safire, William (October 9, 1988). "ON LANGUAGE; Debatemanship". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon". Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "apophasis".  
  9. ^ Burton, Gideon O. "paralipsis". Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric.  
  10. ^   Eco and Weaver use the spelling paralepsis or "passing over" for the phenomenon.
  11. ^ Lamar Jr., Jacob V. (15 August 1988). "Reagan: Part Fixer, Part Hatchet Man". Time Magazine. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Strauss, Daniel (14 August 2015). "Donald Trump bad-mouths his rivals". Politico. Retrieved 16 August 2015. 


  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1984) [1920]. Greek Grammar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680.  

External links

  • Figures of rhetoric: Apophasis
  • A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices: Apophasis
  • Wordsmith: Paralipsis
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