apoph·​a·​sis ə-ˈpä-fə-səs How to pronounce apophasis (audio)
: the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it (as in "we won't discuss his past crimes")
… he indulges himself in apophasis about his ex-wives ("No, I am most definitely not making any charges or accusations. It's merely that …").John Brooks
: the practice of describing something (such as God) by stating which characteristics it does not have especially because human thought or language is believed to be insufficient to describe it fully or accurately
apophasis happens because, like Moses and the burning bush, persons have been drawn so close to the mystery that they have begun to realize how beautifully, appallingly, heart-breakingly mysterious God really is.Mark Allen McIntosh

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The Sneaky Roots of Apophasis

Apophasis is a sly debater's trick, a way of sneaking an issue into the discussion while maintaining plausible deniability. It should come as no surprise, then, that the roots of apophasis lie in the concept of denial-the word was adopted into English from Late Latin, where it means "repudiation," and derives from the Greek apophanai, meaning "to deny." (Apophanai, in turn, comes from apo-, meaning "away from" or "off," and phanai, meaning "to say.") This particular rhetorical stunt is also known by the labels preterition and paraleipsis (which is a Greek word for "omission"), but those words are rarer than apophasis. Incidentally, don’t confuse apophasis with apophysis; the latter is a scientific word for an expanded or projecting part of an organism.

Examples of apophasis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The ancient Greeks had a word for this kind of rhetorical move — apophasis, or, the art of bringing up a subject in a debate by claiming not to be bringing it up. Patrick T. Brown, CNN, 23 Mar. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'apophasis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin, repudiation, from Greek, denial, negation, from apophanai to deny, from apo- + phanai to say — more at ban entry 1

First Known Use

1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of apophasis was in 1656


Dictionary Entries Near apophasis

Cite this Entry

“Apophasis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apophasis. Accessed 29 May. 2024.

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