Word: paralipsis

Pronunciation: pa-rə-LIP-sis

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I learned from reading political news articles. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of using phrases like “not to mention…”, “I’m not saying that [X], but…”, and others along those lines. Such phrases are not uncommon to hear or even to say ourselves, as they make use of a popular rhetorical device, but it seems one of the current American presidential candidates in particular tends to use it in excess. It’s no wonder this device is so popular in politics; I suppose if you really want to say something out loud without being held accountable for it later, “paralipsis” is a strategy worth considering!

“Paralipsis” is a rhetorical device for giving emphasis to a subject by claiming to say little or nothing about it. The word arose in the late 16th century and comes from the Greek noun paráleipsis, meaning “omission”. This noun stems from the verb paraleípein “to pass over”, which in turn comprises the preposition pará “beside” and the verb leípein “to leave”.

Having used “paralipsis” many times myself, I confess I had never appreciated the irony of the device before I started writing this post. Think about it: is there a more oxymoronic way of saying something than by explicitly stating you won’t say it? In my opinion, the Ancient Greeks were brilliant to have a word in their vocabulary for this device, which is also known as “apophasis“. If your characters like to emphasize points by ironically claiming they won’t say anything about them, you may be making good use of “paralipsis” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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