Paralepsis in Robert Benchley's "The Tooth"

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Nordquist, Richard. "Paralepsis in Robert Benchley's "The Tooth"." ThoughtCo, Oct. 30, 2016, thoughtco.com/paralepsis-in-benchleys-the-tooth-1692266. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, October 30). Paralepsis in Robert Benchley's "The Tooth". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/paralepsis-in-benchleys-the-tooth-1692266 Nordquist, Richard. "Paralepsis in Robert Benchley's "The Tooth"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/paralepsis-in-benchleys-the-tooth-1692266 (accessed September 20, 2017).
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Robert Benchley (1889-1945). (American Stock Archive/Getty Images)

Paralepsis is a rhetorical strategy by which a speaker says (often emphatically and at great length) what he or she claims isn't worth saying at all. In this passage from "The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth," Robert Benchley employs paralepsis for comic effect, describing "the scene in the dentist's waiting-room" after disclaiming any intention of doing so.


from "The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth"*

by Robert Benchley

Too often has the scene in the dentist's waiting-room been described for me to try to do it again here. They are all alike. The antiseptic smell, the ominous hum from the operating-rooms, the ancient Digests, and the silent, sullen group of waiting patients, each trying to look unconcerned and cordially disliking everyone else in the room—all these have been sung by poets of far greater lyric powers than mine. (Not that I really think that they are greater than mine, but that's the customary form of excuse for not writing something you haven't got time or space to do. As a matter of fact, I think I could do it much better than it has ever been done before.)
 

I can only say that, as you sit looking, with unseeing eyes, through a large book entitled The War in Pictures, you would gladly change places with the most lowly of God's creatures. It is inconceivable that there should be anyone worse off than you, unless perhaps it is some of the poor wretches who are waiting with you.

That one over in the arm-chair, nervously tearing to shreds a copy of The Dental Review and Practical Inlay Worker. She may have something frightful the trouble with her. She couldn't possibly look more worried. Perhaps it is very, very painful. This thought cheers you up considerably. What cowards women are in times like these!

And then there comes the sound of voices from the next room.

"All right, Doctor, and if it gives me any more pain shall I call you up? . . . Do you think that it will bleed much more? . . . Saturday morning, then, at eleven. . . . Good bye, Doctor."

And a middle-aged woman emerges (all women are middle-aged when emerging from the dentist's office) looking as if she were playing the big emotional scene in John Ferguson. A wisp of hair waves dissolutely across her forehead between her eyes. Her face is pale, except for a slight inflammation at the corners of her mouth, and in her eyes is that far-away look of one who has been face to face with Life. But she is through. She should care how she looks.

The nurse appears, and looks inquiringly at each one in the room. Each one in the room evades the nurse's glance in one last, futile attempt to fool someone and get away without seeing the dentist. But she spots you and nods pleasantly. God, how pleasantly she nods! There ought to be a law against people being as pleasant as that.

"The doctor will see you now," she says.

* "The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing but the Tooth" originally appeared in Love Conquers All, by Robert Benchley (1922).