For example, a person might say something to the effect of "My friend really hurt me in [insert description here], but I forgive them", with the intention of manipulating someone's opinion.

By avoiding a direct insult or anger, the description sounds like it gives the listener an unbiased account. However, in reality, the listener is more likely to accept the description without suspicion and reach the angry conclusion the speaker wanted.

Is there a word or phrase for this phenomenon?

  • Welcome to Linguistics SE! So you mean it's a subcase of manipulation, right?
    – Ivan Kapitonov
    Dec 20 '15 at 2:39
  • 1
    Hypocrisy, maybe?
    – bytebuster
    Dec 20 '15 at 3:39
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    Yep, I think it's pretty clearly manipulative. I guess I'm wondering if there's a more specific term for it.
    – PepeOfMath
    Dec 20 '15 at 3:40
  • Why is it necessary to insert a description: i.e. isn't it enough to exemplify with "My friend hurt me but I forgive him"? In which case your conclusion that the speaker is attempting to manipulate the audience is based on the fact that the information "My friend hurt me" is irrelevant excess info. This is simple manipulation. Are you familiar with Gricean analysis of conversation, which is basically about the technology of manipulation?
    – user6726
    Dec 20 '15 at 17:54
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    I think your example needs to be edited thus: My friends really hurt me in [insert description here], but I forgive them".
    – haha
    Dec 20 '15 at 21:52

What you describe sounds to be like the rhetorical strategy called apophasis (ə-pŏf′ə-sĭs)--alternately, praeteritio or occupatio, which Harris defines as a rhetorical device which

"asserts or emphasizes something by pointedly seeming to pass over, ignore, or deny it. This device has both legitimate and illegitimate uses. Legitimately, a writer [or speaker] uses it to call attention to sensitive or inflammatory facts or statements while he remains apparently detached from them."

For one thing, if a person truly forgives another person, he or she will refuse to bring up the hurt again in conversation, either with the person who did the hurting or with others who were not initially aware of the hurt and the circumstances surrounding it.

The person of whom you speak, however, is demonstrating he has not truly forgiven the person who hurt him, and he does so by simply revivifying the past hurt. Evidently, to him, the hurt is not "water under the bridge" and neither forgiven nor forgotten.

For this reason, his use of apophasis is illegitimate in that it is an attempt to sour other people's opinion of the person who hurt him and whom he supposedly forgave.

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