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Paralipsis

Pronounced /ˌpærəˈlɪpsɪs/Help with pronunciation

There are so many technical terms in rhetoric — aporia, hypallage, paraprosdokian, and zeugma are just a few — that I need to look them up every time because I can’t keep them in mind. (If I had wanted to learn a stack of weird names, I’d have taken up botany.)

Paralipsis is a kind of irony, a rhetorical trick by which the speaker or writer emphasises something by professing to ignore it. Key phrases that give you the clue to an approaching paralipsis include “not to mention”, “to say nothing of”, “leaving aside”, “without considering”, and “far be it from me to mention”.

Some examples may make this clearer: “Far be it from me to mention Mr Smith’s many infidelities”; “It would be unseemly for me to dwell on the man’s drinking problem”, “I will not speak of her unsavoury past”, “I surely need not remind you to get your Christmas shopping done early”. You will have got the idea.

It’s from Greek paraleipsis, passing over. The device goes around under several aliases, being also known as paraleipsis, paralepsis, preterition, and occupatio. Some writers argue that it’s the same thing as apophasis. They may say that: I couldn’t possibly comment.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 21 Dec. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-par3.htm
Last modified: 21 December 2002.