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Writing: The Rhetorical Device Apophasis, The Writing Trick That Denies To Assert

By Author: Joe Jenkins
Total Articles: 34

I WOULD NEVER SAY YOUR FEET STINK!
The Greeks called this Apophasis.
Clever, usually aggressive, writers can state or give special emphasis to something by seeming to pointedly ignore it, pass over it, or deny it. A writer or speaker uses this device to avoid (or appear to avoid) offending holders of opposing ideas, while mentioning and calling attention to sensitive or inflammatory facts or statements. This device can be used effectively by speakers who are good enough actors to appear to be detached from the negative statements that are mentioned in passing in an off-hand way.
I will not mention the large budget problem that is ruining us, or how your department's unsuccessful programs have nearly pushed us into bankruptcy, because I am not looking to humiliate you.
Given our Chinese culture that stresses filial piety, I will refrain from saying that you were not a very provident father.
It is not necessary to mention Peter's many scandals, both at home and abroad, nor the failed investments he involved his family in, nor his numerous convictions, since I want to concentrate on the charactersitics of the product that he is currently sponsoring.
There is a fine line between the legitimate and the illegitimate use of this device. If it is employed to bring in irrelevant statements while it supplies a screen to hide behind, it is an abusive use. The first of the following examples clearly has the purpose of smearing the opponent. The second appears to be a serious consideration of the causes of a problem.
1. I will not repeat that Jones beats his wife, is a drunk, and sells drugs to children, because I never would allow a discussion of personal matters to influence a serious political discussion.
2. I do not mean to suggest that Mr.Crump is the cause of the inefficiency and work blockage in this factory, but we must investigate the correlation between the paperwork that goes through his office and the delays on the shop floor.
The dishonest use of this device is common in political campaigns. Accusations are hinted at, and implied, and then followed by protestations of innocence. Often the real purpose of saying, "I do not mean to suggest [or imply]" something is precisely to say it. We all know that if you throw enough mud, some of it sticks.
However, some honest writers and speakers use this expression or others like it to keep a discussion clear, and to emphasize what their real intentions are and are not.
This rhetorical device is handy for reminding people of something in a polite way:
Of course, I do not need to mention that you should always wear clean underwear.
Our enthusiasm about natural gas as a clean fuel has nothing to do with our firm opposition to obtaining it by hydraulic fracturing with its attendant damage to the environment.
Some useful phrases for this tool are: nothing need be said about, I pass over, it need not be said (or mentioned), I will not mention (or dwell on or bring up), we will overlook, I do not mean to suggest (or imply), you need not be reminded, it is unnecessary to bring up, we can forget about, no one would suggest.
Remember, the Greeks called this Apophasis.

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