Topical example:

'There was a scuffle outside the local pub. There appears to be no connection with religious extremists.'

...but now you're wondering if there was. It's a nasty tactic used to raise fear and doubt - deliberately calling attention to something by explicitly denying it.

What's the term for this?

  • 1
    Reverse psychology? But I expect there's a better term, and I really look forward to hearing what it is. The related thread of planting an idea would be: english.stackexchange.com/questions/186670/… Jul 26, 2016 at 9:04
  • You could call it a "devious non-sequitur" perhaps. Jul 26, 2016 at 9:22
  • 6
    TVTropes.org calls this a "suspiciously specific denial"; it's an important trope for building suspicion/conspiracy plots. Jul 26, 2016 at 13:59
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    – MetaEd
    Jul 26, 2016 at 18:06
  • I feel like incrimination through association could fit the bill but I don't think it's very common.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 26, 2016 at 20:07

7 Answers 7


In rhetoric, this is called paralipsis or apophasis.

  • 9
    I think you're right, but we need a definition or two. I frequently lose track of my rhetorical devices...
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 26, 2016 at 11:03
  • @DanBron I think I might have seen them over behind the Texas Sharpshooter's barn... Jul 26, 2016 at 19:44
  • 1
    The etymology of those terms would be helpful. Jul 27, 2016 at 7:56
  • -1 because I shouldn't have to click a link to see a definition. Answers should be self-contained. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/18669/…
    – Aaron Hall
    Jul 27, 2016 at 20:23

Innuendo, insinuation, overtone & connotation come close.

innuendo: a statement which indirectly suggests that someone has done something immoral, improper, etc


: a usually bad or insulting remark that is said in an indirect way

: the act of saying something bad or insulting in an indirect way

overtone : an idea or quality that is suggested without being said directly

connotation: an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its meaning

  • This is definitely a great (the?) answer if you're looking for common words.
    – jpmc26
    Jul 26, 2016 at 15:16

The word you're looking for is probably misdirection:

Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract it's attention from another.

More broadly, the phenomenon you refer to is a part of Ironic process theory.


A logical fallacy is an error in the logic of an argument that prevents it from being logically valid but does not prevent it from swaying people's minds. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Logical_fallacy

Your example looks like a case of media manipulation:

a series of related techniques in which partisans create an image or argument that favours their particular interests.[1] Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_manipulation


It sounds like you may be asking for the reverse of this, but when denial of something specific raises suspicion, an applicable phrase is "The lady doth protest too much, methinks", which is a reference to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

It implies that the denial itself is suspicious because if nothing weird was going on you wouldn't have to deny it.

For example, if you walk into your kitchen and a person says, "I didn't steal any of your cookies", you would probably be suspicious, and you could respond, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks".

Note: This is sometimes formulated "Methinks the lady doth protest too much", but that is technically a misquote


If anyone of the aforementioned, the answer should be Apophasis; literally:

To bring up a subject by denying it

But never Paralipsis, which in a typical example, is a sentence starting by:

Not to mention...


Duplicity? I just call it sneaky speech!
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/duplicitous http://www.dictionary.com/browse/duplicity

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