(I apologize for the title, it's the best I could do to phrase it concisely.)

Paralepsis (Wikipedia suggests the spelling Paralipsis) is defined as: a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer invokes a subject by denying that it should be invoked.

An example would be a politician who says something like, "I will not stoop to mentioning my opponent's drinking problem." Every example I can find has basically the same structure: "I won't say ... (and then says whatever it is.)"

My question is: is it still paralepsis if the phrase "I won't say ..." is implied, instead of explicitly stated. The example that prompted this question was the exchange:

A: I've been in the business for 15 years with 50+ transactions a year.

B: Congratulations on your success but personally I don't care how many deals you do a year. Reliability, integrity and keeping my clients happy are the only things I care about in this business.

To me, there's an implied "I won't point out that you don't care about integrity..." in person B's statement. (Although I'm less certain now that I've written this question.)

  • For the record, this rhetorical figure is more often known as præteritio (or praeteritio), and "consists of first repudiating a certain view in unfavourable terms, and then repeating the same view in favourable terms." (Farnsworth, Classical English Rhetoric, p. 166). – Robusto Jun 27 '12 at 12:07
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    @robusto - "more often" being a relative term, as i have never actually heard either before ;) – Schroedingers Cat Jun 27 '12 at 13:00

Regarding your question Is it still paralepsis if the phrase "I won't say ..." is implied rather than stated: It's difficult to make such an implication, much less to make it perfectly clear the speaker "means" to not mention the topic that's being mentioned. Certainly, the example given does not successfully make any such implication. The notion that mentioning integrity implies "I won't point out that you don't care about integrity..." seems wrong; indeed, the absence of an explicit "I won't say" is more likely to be taken as meaning "Let me point out...".

In short: I think merely implying "I won't say" in a figure of speech, rather than stating it explicitly in that figure, is not an insuperable barrier to the figure being paralipsis. But the example makes no such implication and I'm not aware of any paralipsis examples that work via implication.

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  • It can be done by intonation: "Reliability, integrity and keeping my clients happy are the only things I care about in this business," implying that A does not care about them. – Andrew Leach Jun 27 '12 at 7:49
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    Yes, but that is a straight innuendo. A paralepsis would be a different way of making the innuendo: there is no reason imagine an implied paralepsis. – Colin Fine Jun 27 '12 at 10:23

From the definition, it would seem that an explicit invocation of some form is probably needed. It can take many forms - "I needn't mention" or "I have almost forgotten" are probably included, but it would seem that specifying that you are not going to talk about it or discuss it is important.

The example you give is doing something different, It implies "I value reliability, integrity and clients, you value deal counts". It is a conflict of values, which has implications "you don't value integrity as highly", rather then mentioning by not mentioning.

I think, to be proper paralipsis, it would have to be more like "Congratulations on your business success. We won't mention how you got most of your deals", which has the implication of a lack of integrity.

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