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Best Words Ever – Paralipsis

congressman anthony weiner

Weiner, potential paralipsis magnet - Yeah right, nobody's trying to be subtle about him

Okay, best words ever is going to be a new, occasional, semi-series focusing on how beautiful and intricate the English language can be.

Improving our vocabularies is one of the best ways I know to improve how we think. If a thought or concept can only be expressed through certain words, the ability to express certain things is diminished if we do not know the words.

Recently a teenage girl approached the desk at the library and asked for a “book that tells you what words mean.” I asked her if she meant a dictionary.

“I don’t know, is that what that word means?”

She was still able to get her point across, but it took more words, more time, and more effort than simply knowing the word dictionary. I would guess that she was at least 16.

So that’s the reasoning behind the great words series. Each time I write one of these posts I’ll focus on a word that I find unusual, illuminating, worth knowing, et cetera.

Today that word is paralipsis. I found it in one of the word mini-essays from the Oxford Writer’s Thesaurus that I reviewed in Another Word For Annoyed.

From the OED:

The rhetorical device of emphasizing or drawing attention to something by professing to say little or nothing about it, or affecting to dismiss it (usually with such phrases as not to mention, to say nothing of, etc.); an instance of this. Cf. preterition n. 1.

Politicians do this constantly. It is the art of saying something by saying that you’re not going to talk about it. This allows them the delightful fantasy that we think they’re sincere and are treading some lovely moral high ground that is the bedrock of all political campaigning.

For instance:

  • I’m not going to discuss his flip-flopping on immigration
  • I have better things to talk about than Congressman Weiner’s photoshop skills

Can we still get the point across by saying, “You know how when someone tries to mention that someone says or does or thinks something but you don’t really want to point it out because you’ll seem like an insincere douche-master? Well, he does that.”

But is it as satisfying as using paralipsis? I wouldn’t know. It’s a word that I can’t figure out how to work into a conversation without seeming like a pedantic ninny just trying to show off his vocabularic majesterosity.

So it starts with you. Now you know what the word means if you didn’t already, and I can use it with you in casual conversation.

Go forth and drown your conversation partners in syllables today.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jason Dodd June 10, 2011, 12:08 pm

    I’m not going to discuss why I utilize paralipsis. There’s been a lot of things that I could choose not to discuss, and this one is of particular significance to me.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 10, 2011, 12:56 pm

      Now you’re talking.

    • Jim Janney June 10, 2011, 5:05 pm

      There is is no, repeat no truth that librarians and kettlebell users are closet paraliptics. Let’s just quash this one
      before it even gets started.

      • Josh Hanagarne June 10, 2011, 5:11 pm

        Yes, let’s not go there, and I especially won’t mention what I caught you doing with that poor garden gnome.

  • cinderkeys June 11, 2011, 3:49 pm

    All the jokes have been taken, so I’ll play it straight and say great word. Can’t wait to work it into conversation.