metanoia (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

metanoia
In "Marginalia," American author Edgar Allan Poe said that he often used the dash to mark "a second thought—an emendation.". (Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

Definition

Metanoia is a rhetorical term for the act of self-correction in speech or writing. Also known as correctio or the figure of afterthought.

Metanoia may involve amplifying or retracting, strengthening or weakening a prior statement. "The effect of metanoia," says Robert A. Harris, "is to provide emphasis (by fussing over a term and redefining it), clarity (by providing the improved definition), and a sense of spontaneity (the reader is thinking along with the writer as the writer revises a passage)" (Writing with Clarity and Style, 2003).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Greek, "change one's mind, repent"
 

Examples and Observations

  • Kreuz Market is the ultimate barbecue restaurant—no, scratch that—barbecue experience in Central Texas (and therefore the world).
     
  • "You might have heard a pin fall—a pin! a feather—as he described the cruelties inflicted on muffin boys by their masters . . .."
    (Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, 1839)
     
  • To Put It a Better Way . . . 
    "[W]ithout that association, that sense of membership in something—or to put that a better way, without a sense of belonging and participation in a group effort, the employee loses focus on what we're trying to accomplish."
    (Unnamed "president of a media company" quoted in The Servant Leader, by James A. Autry. Prima Publishing, 2001)
     
  • Let Me Correct That . . .
    "Shortly after I came to Washington I was told in a way that showed me it was no loosely thought out—let me correct that statement. I was told in a serious way that Mr. Finletter—or rather, I was told by Mr. Finletter that he had serious question as to the loyalty of Dr. Oppenheimer."
    (David Tressel Griggs, witness at physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer's hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission's Personnel Security Board, May 1954. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing, ed. by Richard Polenberg. Cornell University Press, 2002)
     
  • Or More Properly Speaking . . .
    "The meal, when beaten up, is used for thickening broths, and rolled up into bolsters about a foot long and two inches in diameter, and then wrapped in plantain leaves, and tied round with tie-tie and boiled, or more properly speaking steamed, for a lot of the rolls are arranged in a brass skillet. . . . [T]he whole affair is poised on the three cooking-stones over a wood fire, and left there until the contents are done, or more properly speaking, until the lady in charge of it has delusions on the point, and the bottom rolls are a trifle burnt or the whole insufficiently cooked."
    (Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, 1897)
     
  • "'For my own part,' cried Peregrine, with great eagerness, 'I appeal to Miss Sophy's decision. But why do I say appeal? Though I am conscious of having committed no offence, I am ready to submit to any penance, let it be ever so rigorous, that my fair enslaver herself shall impose, provided it will entitle me to her favour and forgiveness at last.'"
    (Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, 1751)
     
  • The Persuasive Value of Metanoia
    - "Metanoia can have mild persuasive value. The speaker may utter a less controversial claim, then revise it to make it stronger. This brings the reader along more gently than announcing the stronger claim on its own. Or conversely the stronger claim may be offered first but then reduced to something less ambitious that seems easy to accept by comparison. . . .

    "Metanoia can create an impression of scrupulousness, as the speaker starts to say one thing but then feels obliged to take the initiative in correcting it. (It also can suggest overscrupulousness, as when the speaker fusses too much.)"
    (Ward Farnsworth, Farnworth's Classical English Rhetoric. David R. Godine, 2011)

    - "Metanoia can serve a variety of rhetorical ends. Stopping to correct oneself disrupts the flow of discourse, drawing attention to and emphasizing the revision. Or, in a move similar to paralipsis, retracting a statement allows the speaker to introduce an idea or claim and then avoid responsibility for having done so. Sometimes strengthening an initially mild or uncontroversial statement (or qualifying an initially strong one) can persuade an audience by making the speaker seem more reasonable."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 2016)
     
  • Finding the Right Word
    "[I]t seemed to me that there was a safe and unassailable foundation for our claim to interfere on behalf of British subjects, and that was the right which every State possesses to protect its subjects in another State from wrong. That was a right which we possessed in an unusual degree in South Africa owing to the peculiar position of the country—a country where there were two races side by side, both of them determined in their opinions, with a history of their own, and jealous of their independence. Perhaps independence is not the right word to use. I mean, rather, jealous of the equality of their rights."
    (John Wodehouse, Earl of Kimberly, Address in Answer to the Queen's Speech, Oct. 17, 1899)
     
  • I Should Say . . .
    "'I rather was minded to make known to you that I—or, I should rather say, we,' and Mr. Crawley pointed to his wife--'shall not accept your plainness of speech as betokening aught beyond a conceived idea in furtherance of which you have thought it expedient to make certain inquiries.'

    "'I don't quite follow you,' said the major."
    (Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset, 1874)

     

    Pronunciation: met-a-NOY-ah