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What is the origin of the phrase “not to mention …”
Is there a name for “I don't mean to…, but” phrases?

Is there a term for the rhetorical device of making a statement by disguising it in the context of saying that you will not in fact make such a statement? I'm thinking of a politician announcing "I will not stoop to calling my opponent an adulterer" and, in effect, doing exactly that.

  • doublespeak? ie: deliberately phrasing something so that it has the opposite meaning that it appears to have? Commented Mar 17, 2012 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


Apophasis is exactly what you seek. To borrow the definition from Chambers, it means "effectively saying something by stating that you will not mention it."

It is a commonly-used word in theology: a description of God is apophatic when He is described using what He is not.

EDIT (adding another answer after FumbleFingers' comment) - Paralipsis. Once again borrowing Chambers definition, "A rhetorical figure by which one fixes attention on a subject by pretending to neglect it, as in ‘I will not speak of his generosity’, etc." I concur with FF that this is a better fit than Apophasis for OP's question.

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    I remember the example of apophasis when I was studying Latin in high school: Cicero's "I am not going to mention the slaughter of the citizens." Also, this is the mechanism used in some jokes/insults, for example, the Russian insult, "You house burn down and you and your family all perish in the blaze, God forbid!" Commented Mar 17, 2012 at 20:54
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    @Hexagon Tiling: I don't know how old you are, but I note that Chambers '83 didn't even list apophasis - just apophatic, which I think is almost always used in the "religious" context. Latest 12th Edition does have it as Shyam says, so I won't downvote the answer, but I don't like it much. The word has too many unwanted connotations, whereas paralipsis has been around with far more exactly this sense for a long time. Commented Mar 17, 2012 at 23:18
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    @FumbleFingers: You're right. I was referring to the concept, not the term. What I remember from my Latin study guide is something like "praeterito paralipsis: emphasizing something by the pretence of omitting it". You win the Sherlock Holmes award for today. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 9:13

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