apophasis

noun apoph·a·sis \ ə-ˈpä-fə-səs \
|Updated on: 12 Jun 2018

Definition of apophasis

1 : 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
2 : 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

apophasis was our Word of the Day on 08/09/2014. Hear the podcast!

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.

Origin and Etymology of apophasis

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


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