This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link. Device: Paralipsis
Origin: From the Greek παράλειψις (paraleipsis), meaning “omission”.
In plain English: To call attention to something by specifically saying that you will not mention it.
- Saying that one will not mention the person, subject, event, etc. has the opposite effect; it draws the audience’s attention in that direction.
- Paralipsis is frequently used in political speeches to make a (not very subtle) ad hominem attack on one’s opponent. Using paralipsis in this way is often, though not always, considered to be bad form.
- Common phrases in paralipsis include the following: I need not mention …; It goes without saying …; I don’t mean to suggest …; I don’t have to remind you that …; to say nothing of …; etc.
- One of the most famous speeches in which apophasis and paralepsis are used to great effect is in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when Marc Antony uses it to brilliant effect to turn the Roman crowd against Brutus and the other conspirators who killed Caesar.
- Paralipsis has several synonyms including “praeteritio” and “cataphasis”.
“I will not even mention the fact that you betrayed us in the Roman people by aiding Catiline.”
— Cicero, The Catiline Orations, 63 BC
“Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it [Caesar's will]; It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you. You are not wood, you are not stones, but men; And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar, It will inflame you, it will make you mad. ‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs; For, if you should, O, what would come of it!”
— Mark Antony in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
“It would be superfluous in me to point out to your Lordship that this is war.”
—Charles F. Adams, U.S. Ambassador to Britain, 5 September 1863
“The larger issue is that he [Bill Clinton] is evasive and slick. We’ve never said to the press that he’s a philandering, pot-smoking draft dodger.”
— Mary Matalin, Republican political consultant, August 1992
“I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat President, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”
— Michele Bachmann, 28 April 2009
“I’m not saying I’m responsible for this country’s longest run of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I’m not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a Phoenix metaphor been more personified! I’m not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven’t come across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day!”
— Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2 (2010)