I am looking for a word that describes the act of saying something like, "You shouldn't feel guilty," when what you really want (consciously or subconsciously) is the opposite. In other words, saying "Don't feel guilty" is meant to bring up the notion of guilt. I know there's a word for this but I can't remember it.

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  • I'd call the example suggestive as well as manipulative.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:25
  • If this isn't about guilt, but just the a process that can be applied to anything, you may want to swap out guilty for something else. It's very difficult to ignore that word.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:39
  • @BrianDonovan I'm not so sure that this is similar, but then again it may be the missing half. The question you cite points to examples where an effort is made to highlight the difference between what is being said and what is being implied (thus it is well matched with "Ironic"). This question seems to be looking for a phrase that plays the other direction, hiding the difference between what is said and what is being implied. One question is about a veil of insincerity, the other a veil of sincerity. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 23:47

4 Answers 4


Try apophasis - 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.


I don't have a single-word answer for you. Well, ok... I do, but it's pretty darn obscure.

So the answer that comes to my mind may not be what you're looking for. Generally one way of pointing out the insincere nature of instances like this is the pre-pend the word backhanded.

"Backhanded compliments" is the most common usage of this. (Perhaps the initiate phrase of such usage? Comment if you have research to add.)

But, "backhanded apology" and "backhanded comment" appear in general usage as well.

Some usages are more obvious than others, those tend to be the intentional ones (note the "Especially: Sarcastic" in MW). But the subtler insincerity of subconscious "passive aggression" speaks just as backhandedly as sarcasm ever could.

  • I just had to bite on the link. Thanks for the nifty word! (no asteism intended!)
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:29
  • @Rob_Ster the campaign to popularize 'asteism' starts NOW! :-) Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 1:53

I also thought of backhanded, as well as insincere, pathological and my personal favorite, Machiavellian.




It is the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.

Other alternatives: Understatement, litote or antiphrasis.

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