I will not say

I will not say

In Brief

Figure of speech. Of Gerald Fitzgibbon's remarks opposing the revival of the Irish language, Professor MacHugh says that "It was the speech...of a finished orator, full of courteous haughtiness and pouring in chastened diction I will not say the vials of his wrath but pouring the proud man's contumely upon the new movement." Saying that one will not say something is one way of saying it. The rhetorical tradition has a name for this ironic tactic: paralepsis. It sometimes uses the term apophasis for the same purpose.

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Paralepsis (par-uh-LEP-sis, from Greek para- = beside + leipein = to leave), sometimes spelled paralipsis or paraleipsis, is "leaving aside" something that one nevertheless mentions. Gideon Burton (rhetoric.byu.edu) defines it as "Stating and drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over. A kind of irony." As an example he quotes from the "Breakfast" chapter of Moby-Dick: "We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare." Richard Nordquist (thoughtco.com) cites another lovely gustatory use by Tom Coates on Plasticbag.org: "Let's pass swiftly over the vicar's predilection for cream cakes. Let's not dwell on his fetish for Dolly Mixture. Let's not even mention his rapidly increasing girth. No, no—let us instead turn directly to his recent work on self-control and abstinence." Among other examples, Nordquist cites the moment in Julius Caesar in which Mark Antony waves Caesar's will in front of the plebeians, implying that they are beneficiaries but not reading from the document.

Apophasis (uh-POF-uh-sis, from Greek apo- = off + phanai = to speak) is "speaking off" or denying something. For rhetoricians it can have the non-ironic meaning summarized by Burton: "The rejection of several reasons why a thing should or should not be done and affirming a single one, considered most valid." But it can also mean, as Nordquist observes, "the mention of something in disclaiming intention of mentioning it––or pretending to deny what is really affirmed." In The Mystery of Rhetoric Unveiled, John Smith defines it as "a kind of Irony, whereby we deny that we say or doe that which we especially say or doe." Nordquist cites a slew of stinging uses from the political arena. If apophasis differs from paralepsis in any real way (I am not sure that it does), it would consist in the use of outright denial to advance one's ironic attack: I will not blame my opponent for having done the despicable thing that I have just insinuated he has done, or hold against him the terrible failing of which he is clearly possessed.

§ MacHugh's use of one or the other of these rhetorical devices is relatively mild. Describing the scorn that Fitzgibbon "poured" on the Irish language movement, he calls it a principled dislike ("the proud man's contumely") rather than emotional intemperance ("the vials of his wrath"). He borrows both expressions from famous works of literature. The writer of the book of Revelation recalls "a great voice" telling the seven angels to "pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth" (16:1), and in his "To be or not to be soliloquy Hamlet speaks of "The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely" (3.1.70).

John Hunt 2023
Entry in Bryan Garner's Modern English Usage. Source: twitter.com.
Source: www.thoughtco.com.
Source: www.buckleyschool.com.