If a sentence is formed like this,

There is a deep ambivalence, not to say hypocrisy, when we notice that ..

I am confused what exactly the author emphasizing. Is he saying, the hypocrisy is obvious but I am highlighting the ambivalence; or is he drawing readers attention to 'ambivalence' and asking them not to confuse it with 'hypocrisy'?


not to say:

used to introduce a stronger alternative or addition to something already said:

it is easy to become sensitive, not to say paranoid

not to say:

Even; perhaps; almost.

At first Marc was somewhat shocked, then he burst out laughing and finally came to the conclusion that actually it was all rather sad, not to say stupid.

Depending on the context, you could mean that the alternative is definite or simply a good possibility. In the OP's example, the writer is leaning towards the definite.


In OP's context, not to say means and possibly even or if not (i.e. - not definitely, but maybe).

In effect, whilst the writer is definitely prepared to say there is deep ambivalence (felt by observers), he's diffident about going so far as to say there's hypocrisy (being observed).

One could say this is a mild form of paralipsis, typified by "not to mention xxxx". In that more overt form, the speaker claims he won't mention xxxx in the very act of so doing (but he definitely and explicitly means "xxxx really does apply here"). In OP's case, the writer shies away from explicit accusations of hypocrisy, he simply raises the possibility in the reader's mind.

I'd also say that to me the sentence is poor English. The "ambivalence" is an attribute experienced internally by the writer and/or other observers, but the hypocrisy (if indeed there is any) would be an externally assigned attribute of whatever/whoever is under consideration. I think it's bad style, if not downright unsettling, to conjoin attributes with totally different referents in this way.

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    at bad style or a bad style? – Noah Aug 24 '12 at 1:30
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    I like the experienced-assigned distinction that you make, but surely we can associate with every externally-observed behavior a corresponding internally-observed experience? It seems reasonable to assume that being a hypocrite feels a certain way and that we can observe a person's ambivalence to some degree. I'm not interested in the accuracy with which we can do this in any situation. I just wanted to note that I think we can and do make connections between these distinct spheres and so can perhaps bridge the conceptual gap that you point out, maybe with too much difficulty for your taste. – Rachel Aug 24 '12 at 2:22
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    @Rachel: But my very point is that the writer isn't talking about what "being a hypocrite feels [like]". He "extrapolates" from an internal feeling of ambivalence to an external instance of possible hypocrisy (not internal what it's like to detect hypocrisy in others). It doesn't work for me when the writer tries to map these totally different concepts onto one possible "scale" against which to measure whatever he's talking about (when we notice that ..). – FumbleFingers Aug 24 '12 at 3:03
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    You believe there is a difference of substance between "not to say" and "not to mention"? Why? How are say and mention different here? – MetaEd Aug 24 '12 at 4:11
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    @ΜετάEd: Certainly there's a difference, as indicated by my first link to the Cambridge Dictionaries definition not to say=and possibly even. Their definition for not to mention is used when you want to emphasize something that you are adding to a list. They're both idiomatic usages - you can't claim they're equivalent just because in other contexts say and mention can mean exactly the same thing. – FumbleFingers Aug 24 '12 at 15:11

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