Have You Ever?
While sitting in the cafeteria, you can’t help but hear an exchange between students.
“She actually said that?”
“Yeah. She was being so rude. I’d never say anything about her mom’s drinking problem. Not to even mention that I’ve told no one I’m tutoring her in Calc. Far be it from my place to let others judge her over that stuff.”
“Obviously. Did she ever apologize?”
‘Of course not. She’s not the kind to.”
Despite the fact the student says they won’t say or mention anything, claiming it’s not their place, they proceed to do just that. These kinds of statements are called paralipses.
A paralipsis is a rhetorical device in which a subject is introduced by denying it should be discussed. Simply put, it is discussing and drawing attention to a topic while professing not to be doing so.
The term “paralipsis” comes from the Greek word “paralipses,” which means “passing over.” It developed from the combination of the Greek terms “para” or “aside” and “leipein” which means “omit.” Paralipsis appears in records from the sixteenth century.
A paralipsis draws attention to a topic by professing to ignore it. While it might seem like a childish method, it’s very effective. Think about it. How often do you hear a friend saying, “It’s not a big deal” while stressing over and talking about the “insignificant problem?” How about a guardian warning, “Now I know I don’t need to remind you” before reiterating exactly what they’re “not” reminding you about? Or how about hearing any sentence starting with “It goes without saying” before stating some fact or opinion? Paralipses are ever-present in our daily conversations. By pretending to deny something, a paralipsis ends up highlighting the importance of it.
In formal logic debates, though, paralipses are almost always considered a faux pas. They often are used in tandem with attacks of an opponent’s character rather than their argument. When spotted in professional settings like a political debate or used by a person in power, a paralipsis can make the speaker seem childish, unkind, and spiteful.
Paralipses can draw attention to a point or make those who employ them look bad, depending on how well they’re used. Thus it’s important to exercise caution when employing a paralipsis: a little goes a long way in this case.