I am wondering why "A, or rather B" is used in writing in sentences like the following:

It is well known, or rather notorious, that Tokyo is the Great Babylon of Japan.

Some people might cross out "or rather notorious" for the sake of brevity. We know brevity is important in writing. But sometimes it is not the only concern, and it can be overridden by other factors.

I have seen "A, or rather B,..." in written material. Why was it used in the first place, if not for some special effect?

It would be understandable to use it in speech, since people often make slips of the tongue. But why is it used in writing? I am curious what the rhetorical effect might be.

1 Answer 1


I believe this is a form of metanoia (fancy Greek for "correction" or "changing one's mind", but also a rhetorical device).

Both the way it works and the reasons it may be employed are explained in some detail in this answer on Writers StackExchange site. Here's an excerpt:

a. To stop and correct oneself usually is unexpected; it slightly disrupts the flow of a piece of writing or speech. The disruption attracts attention and gives emphasis to the revised claim.

b. The device allows the speaker to say something and then take it back, thus avoiding some responsibility for the utterance while still leaving it to linger with the listener; retracting a statement does not entirely erase the experience of hearing it.

  • 1
    Hello, LjL. Citing (and linking to another Stack Exchange site) is fine, as is citing and linking to Wikipedia. (Including such links is in fact highly recommended.) But to make your answer more of a one-stop shop, you might want to summarize the information that the two sources you cite provide. That way, readers can find the information in one place instead of following link trails.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 3:20

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