Apophasis and Praeteritio


An apophasis is a rhetorical device where the speaker asserts or emphasizes a topic by pointedly seeming to pass over, or ignore the point; whereas in reality, the speaker nevertheless hints at the point he wants to make.

The Latin counterpart is known as a praeteritio (also known as occupatio) which is a rhetorical device where the speaker emphasizes a topic by mentioning the fact that the topic is not going to be mentioned – mentioning by not mentioning.

In most cases these rhetorical devices are one and the same, except in clear-cut cases where the speaker is very forthright. In this case we refer to the remark as a praeteritio:

“If you were not my father, I would say you were perverse.” – Antigone

“I will pass over the fact that Jenkins beats his wife, is an alcoholic, and sells drugs to children, because we will not allow personal matters to enter into our political discussion.”

Whereas the apophasis can be more subtle:

“Of course, I do not need to mention that you should bring a No. 2 pencil to the exam.”

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One thought on “Apophasis and Praeteritio

  1. Pingback: WOW: apophasis | On Language

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