A small child is lost in a dark forest at night. He hears a wolf howl and says out loud, "I'm not afraid."

The key here is that the true meaning is unintentionally conveyed. The child is afraid, but thinks he isn't supposed to be, which is why he felt the need to say out loud that he was not.

I understand it's a form of irony, but I feel as if irony requires either (1) intent of the speaker or (2) a detached observer's perspective. If the child had said, "what a cheery place this is," that would be irony/sarcasm, because the child is intentionally saying the opposite of what he means. An author writing this scene in a story might consider it irony in the literary sense.

But the child speaking the words in real life doesn't intend them as irony, and may not even realize the irony after he has spoken. Is that still irony? It feels like a different phenomenon to me, somehow.

It's not apophasis. That's when you intentionally raise a subject by denying it, like: "I won't make age an issue in this campaign."

And it's not antiphrasis. That too implies intent: "Take your time, we've got all day."


  • 3
    Protesting too much? Freudian? Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:50
  • Trying to convince yourself of something you don't really believe? The child may know perfectly well that they're afraid—and I doubt that in that moment they're thinking at all about whether or not hey should be afraid. Personally, I find it no different than repeating I can do this in order to convince yourself that you can. I think it's motivational, not any kind of truth statement. In short, I don't agree with the reason stated for the child saying it out loud. Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 19:55
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    It’s a telltale
    – Jim
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 20:27
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    The small child's statement is denial.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 20:47
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    There is too much going on with the child to define anything. Is the child trying to convince itself that it is not afraid ? Is the child saying something because it has been taught to say it ? Is the child just lying ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 23:01

3 Answers 3


False bravado:

Bravado: https://grammarist.com/interesting-words/bravado/

Bravado is a noun which means a show of boldness, swagger. Bravado is evinced when one is self-confident with a feeling of boastfulness. Bravado may be displayed in order to mislead someone, false bravado is a pretence of courage and self-confidence, a simulation.


How about Freudian slip? From Lexico:

Freudian slip: An unintentional error regarded as revealing subconscious feelings.

The child in your question is unintentionally conveying their subconscious feelings, i.e., fear.

  • For whatever reason, Freudian slips are usually associated with sexual innuendo; I'm not sure that I would use the phrase.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 21:21
  • @Greybeard Thanks for the comment. While that may have been true originally, the term is used much more broadly today, as indicated by the Lexico definition and the numerous examples Lexico provides with it. Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 21:30

Well if you try to put up a facade, and it reveals what you are trying to hide, I would call it transparent. This doesn't wholly satisfy me but maybe it will help someone remember the real answer.

Transparent: Having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.

I also argue against a Freudian slip, the child said what he meant to say, the listener just saw through their charade, bluff, posturing, or attempt to

Put on a brave face: to behave as if a problem is not important or does not worry you

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