apophasis (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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An example of apophasis from Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House in "Acceptance," an episode of House, M.D. (2005). NBC Universal Television

Definition

Apophasis is a rhetorical term for the mention of something in disclaiming intention of mentioning it--or pretending to deny what is really affirmed. Adjective: apophatic or apophantic. Also called denial or omission. Similar to paralepsis and praeteritio.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines apophasis by quoting John Smith's* The Mysterie of Rhetorique Unvail'd (1657): "a kind of Irony, whereby we deny that we say or doe that which we especially say or doe."

Bryan Garner notes that "[s]everal set phrases in our language signal apophasis, such as not to mention, to say nothing of, and it goes without saying" (Garner's Modern English Usage, 2016). 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Etymology
From the Greek, "denial"


Examples

  • "We don't make excuses, but three of our four starting defensive linemen were watching the game today."
    (Los Angeles Rams football coach Jeff Fisher, explaining his team's 30-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills on October 9, 2016)
     
  • "I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it’s an interesting coincidence."
    (Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, April 28, 2009—during an outbreak of swine flu)
     
  • "At a White House press conference, a reporter working for a journal published by Extremist Lyndon LaRouche asked the President about rumors that Michael Dukakis once sought psychological help. 'Look,' [President] Reagan replied with a smile, 'I'm not going to pick on an invalid.'"
    (Jacob V. Lamar, "Reagan: Part Fixer, Part Hatchet Man." Time, August 15, 1988)
     
  • "Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the pay roll and has had it--her on his pay roll for the ten years--for the past ten years. Now just let me say this: That's his business, and I'm not critical of him for doing that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point."
    (Richard M. Nixon, Checkers speech, September 23, 1952)
     
  • "I'm not going to throw mud at my opponent, because he's a fine man. And his wife is a mighty fine woman. Mighty fine. What he sees in that dame he's running around with . . .."
    (politician San Fernando Red, portrayed by comedian Red Skelton)
     
  • "Mary Matlin, the Bush campaign's political director, made the point with ruthless venom at a press briefing in Washington, saying, 'The larger issue is that Clinton is evasive and slick. We have never said to the press that he is a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodger. There's nothing nefarious or subliminal going on.'"
    (reported in The Guardian, 1992)
     
  • "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! It's not about me."
    (Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man 2, 2010)
     
  • "I shall ignore the fact that Learning is youth's finest ornament, the strong support of the prime of life, and the consolation of old age. I shall make no point of the fact that, after careers full of achievement and glory, many of the men who have been most honored by their contemporaries and many of the most eminent of the Romans withdrew from the conflict and hurly-burly of ambition to literary studies, as to a harbor and a delightful treat."
    (John Milton, "Learning Makes Men Happier Than Does Ignorance." Prolusions, 1674)
     
  • "It's not my habit to comment on books that don't interest me or, for various reasons, I don't like."
    (Mayor Massimo Cacciari of Venice, on John Berendt's 2006 novel, The City of Falling Angels)

     
  • "So even though you’ve seen fit to wash your dirty linen in public like this, shorty, I will refrain from mentioning that it wasn’t me who turned up at the Islington Tennis Centre wearing a Rastafarian headband. 15–0! I also won’t sink low enough to point out that while I may have been the crappiest player of this quartet, my game would presumably have gotten off to a better start if, like you and Byng, I’d lived in a stately home with a tennis court in the back garden. 30–0! Byng: I’ll forget that you still owe me for your share of the indoor-court fee for that game on January 20, 2013. 40–0! As for Ardu, the world is better off not knowing about those famously dodgy line calls. Game, set, and match!"
    (Geoff Dyer, "Tennis Lessons: The Meaning of the Game." Harper's, September, 2016)
     
  • Thomas Gibbons and Cicero on Apophasis
    "Apophasis, or denial, is a Figure by which an Orator pretends to conceal or omit what he really and in fact declares.

    "Cicero gives us a definition of this Figure, and furnishes us at the same time with instances of it in the following passage: 'Omission, says he, is when we say we pass over, or do not know, or will not mention, that which we declare with the utmost force. As in this manner: I might speak concerning your youth, which you have spent in the most abandoned profligacy, if I apprehended this was a proper season, but I now purposely wave it. I pass by the report of the Tribunes, who declared that you was [sic] defective in your military duty. The affair about the satisfaction concerning the injuries you had done to Labeo does not belong to the matter at hand: I say nothing of these things; I return to the subject of our present debate. . . .'"
    (Thomas Gibbons, Rhetoric, or, A View of Its Principal Tropes and Figures, in Their Origin and Powers, 1767)

* "John Smith" is generally thought to be a pseudonym used by the Roman Catholic writer John Sergeant (1623-1710?).

 

Pronunciation: ah-POF-ah-sis

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Nordquist, Richard. "apophasis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Oct. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-apophasis-rhetoric-1689115. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, October 17). apophasis (rhetoric). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-apophasis-rhetoric-1689115 Nordquist, Richard. "apophasis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-apophasis-rhetoric-1689115 (accessed January 23, 2018).