Aposiopesis (//; Classical Greek: ἀποσιώπησις, "becoming silent") is a figure of speech wherein a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished, the ending to be supplied by the imagination, giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue. An example would be the threat "Get out, or else—!" This device often portrays its users as overcome with passion (fear, anger, excitement) or modesty. To mark the occurrence of aposiopesis with punctuation, an em dash (—) or an ellipsis (…) may be used.
A classical example of aposiopesis in Virgil occurs in Aeneid 2.100. Sinon, the Greek who is posing as a defector to deceive the Trojans into accepting the Trojan Horse within their city wall, tells about how Ulixes
hinc mihi prima malis labes, hinc semper Vlixes
criminibus terrere nouis, hinc spargere uoces
in uulgum ambiguas et quaerere conscius arma.
nec requieuit enim, donec Calchante ministro—
This was the time when the first onslaught of ruin began for me.
Ulixes kept terrifying me with new accusations,
kept spreading ambiguous rumors among the people,
and kept looking for quarrel.
Nor did he in fact ever stop, until with the help of Calchas—
A biblical example is found in Psalm 27, verse 13. In English it says: "Unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living …" The implication is that the author does not know what he would have done.
Grammatical definition[examples needed]
In syntax, an aposiopesis arises when the "if" clause (protasis) of a condition is stated without an ensuing "then" clause, or apodosis. Because an aposiopesis implies a trailing off of thought, it is never directly followed by a period, which would effectively result in four consecutive dots.
- Lanham, Richard A. (1991). A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley / Los Angeles / London: University of California Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-520-07669-9.
- Justice, Steven (2013). "Chaucer's History-Effect". In Frank Grady. Answerable Style: The Idea of the Literary in Medieval England. Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture. Andrew Galloway. Ohio State UP. pp. 169–94. ISBN 9780814212073.
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 674. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aposiopesis". Encyclopædia Britannica 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.