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Apophasis (Late Latin, from Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι apophemi,[1] "to say no"[2]), paralipsis (παράλειψις) or occupatio,[3][4][5][6] also spelled paraleipsis or paralepsis, and known also as praeteritio, preterition, cataphasis (κατάφασις), antiphrasis (ἀντίφρασις), or parasiopesis (παρασιώπησις), 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.[7] Accordingly, it can be seen as a rhetorical relative of irony. Paralipsis 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 paralipsis 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."[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 pains [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 Britaindispatch 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."

A more positive usage of paralipsis/paralepsis embodies 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][example needed]

With proper names[edit]

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".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon". Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "apophasis". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Kathryn L. Lynch (2000). Chaucer's Philosophical Visions. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 144–. ISBN 978-0-85991-600-4. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Anthony David Nuttall (1980). Overheard by God: fiction and prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St. John. Methuen. p. 96. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ K. V. Tirumalesh (1999). Language Matters: Essays on Language, Literature, and Translation. Allied Publishers. p. 113. ISBN 978-81-7023-947-5. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Safire, William (October 9, 1988). "ON LANGUAGE; Debatemanship". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Burton, Gideon O. "paralipsis". Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric. Brigham Young University. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Eco, Umberto (1984). "Postscript to the Name of the Rose". The Name of the Rose. Translated by William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 39.  Eco and Weaver use the spelling paralepsis or "passing over" for the phenomenon.


  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1984) [1920]. Greek Grammar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 

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