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Of course whatever follows would seem to be precisely the thing that isn't to be mentioned.

EDIT: I'm assuming that the phrase must have evolved from something more complete/cumbersome, like "and of course I don't need to tell you ...", or "and of course we know ...".

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Etymonline doesn't mention "not to mention", it only mentions that "'Don't mention it' as a conventional reply to expressions of gratitude or apology is attested from 1840." –  RegDwigнt Aug 31 '10 at 23:24
    
I suspect this is another rant/peeve disguised as a question, of which we have a lot on this website. :-) There is no mystery here; the phrase is straightforward. To say "The list is A, B, C, not to mention D" means "to say A, B, C would be to not mention D" or "having decided not to mention D in the list, I'll say the list is A, B, C". [Of course, often the speaker may actually want to mention D in the list, but there's no mystery here either; compare "No offence intended" which is often intended to give offence. :-)] –  ShreevatsaR Aug 31 '10 at 23:26
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Are you asking about the etymology of the three words "not", "to" and "mention"? There's not much sense in picking common straightforward natural phrases with self-evident meaning and asking for their etymology. (E.g. what is the etymology of the phrase "what is the"?) –  ShreevatsaR Sep 1 '10 at 0:30
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When in doubt, always check the Bible first. Philemon 1:19: "I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self." That's the New International Version; in the New American Standard Bible, the corresponding passage reads: "I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well)." –  RegDwigнt Sep 1 '10 at 1:35
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@RegDwight: I'm not sure why English translations of the Bible are worth checking first (especially a translation made in the 1960s–70s), but just for completeness: For that verse, the King James Version (1604–1611), has "albeit I do not say to thee…". This of course does not mean that "albeit I do not say" is the etymology of "not to mention", only that the latter is more modern language for the same idea. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 1 '10 at 1:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The rhetorical, as opposed to etymological, origin is the device known as paralpsis, paraleipsis, paralepsis, (also praeteritio) meaning pretended omission for rhetorical effect, because in saying we won't mention X, of course we just did.

Edit (by FumbleFingers): A later question on the same topic gives the relevant word as apophasis. It's a little hard to see from this graph, but what it shows is that until recently, the combined total written instances for various spellings paralpsis, paraleipsis, paralepsis dwarfed those of apophasis. But the graph from 1970 on shows apophasis is now overwhelmingly more common. I don't think this means the correct term for this rhetorical device has just changed - it's just that the theological use of apophatic has led to it being more commonly known, and used "metaphorically".

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Nice approach! Quoth Cicero: "I will not even mention the fact that you betrayed us in the Roman people by aiding Catiline." (Courtesy of Wikipedia.) –  RegDwigнt Sep 1 '10 at 2:19
    
I like this because it's interesting. But I'm not going to upvote it, because it doesn't answer OP's question. Anyway, I think the 'Correct Answer' is implied by several comments under the Question itself. It's meaningless to speak of the 'origin' of such a trivial turn of phrase. –  FumbleFingers May 7 '11 at 0:57
    
I fixed your link, which was dead, and added stuff related to apophasis which you can delete if you don't want it there. –  FumbleFingers Mar 17 '12 at 23:47
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I find it, um, interesting that the Classical (i.e. permanent, fixed, conservative, stable) definitions of the Greek names for rhetorical figures are subject to cultural creep, just like modern (i.e. mutable, faddish, evanescent) grammatical terms. –  John Lawler Jan 28 '13 at 19:38

Although it's still not clear what it means to ask for the etymology of the phrase, I can give some early examples of its usage. (Found through looking on Google Books for the 1600s. If you try this yourself, be sure to check the dates and not trust Google.)

Here's William Somner in 1640 (BTW, 'ſ' is the long s):

… their workes like themſelves ſpeaking Engliſh. The learned, I know, can further ſatisfie themſelves in the point from Bertherius in his Pithanon, and Morinus of late, in Eccleſiaſtica Exercitationes, not to mention divers others.

So here it's very much the literal meaning: there are "divers others", but they have not been mentioned. You can find many other usages of this type, where "not to mention" is not a rhetorical device of pretended omission, but used merely to point out that certain things have not been explicitly mentioned by name.

From here it's a small step (since the form is superficially very similar) to the many usages where the others are mentioned by name (a random example: this from 1698). (I'm not claiming this is how it happened, though.)

The rhetorical usage is also seen in a 1682 work by Robert Boyle, part of his disputes with Thomas Hobbes:

For, not to mention that it is ſtill by many learned men doubted whether the Terreſtrial Globe it ſelf have it; nor to examine whether or no he aſſigns a good Natural cauſe of it; it is not always true that… (p. 28)
[…]
For, not to mention that the Argumentation is invalid, unleſs by Fluidum he mean Omne fluidum, I reply … (p. 83)

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Just because the 'unmentioned' in your earliest reference happen to be literally unnamed, doesn't mean that's not praeteritio. By any reasonable definition, of course it is. Even if that weren't the case, I don't see any reason to imply that the rhetorical device somehow only occured to people after they were familiar with mentioning that they weren't going to mention something when that really is all they meant. –  FumbleFingers May 7 '11 at 0:52
    
@FumbleFingers: I was careful in the answer to make neither of the claims you seem to suggest I've made. :-) This answer was a different approach to the question, looking at available history of usage of the exact phrase "not to mention", rather than the idea (which is covered by moioci's answer which I upvoted). (BTW, I don't think using "etc." when you run out of space is "pretended omission for rhetorical effect", do you?) –  ShreevatsaR Mar 18 '12 at 3:59
    
Well, like you, I never did think too highly of this specific question. But it's in the frame again now because of the paralpsis/apophasis issue. –  FumbleFingers Mar 18 '12 at 12:59

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