Thursday, June 17, 2010



Heinrich Lausberg, Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, Eng. tr. (Leiden: Brill, 1998), §§ 882-886 (pp. 393-394), discusses the rhetorical device known as praeteritio, defined as "the announcement of the intention to leave certain things out." The intention is ironic, because by alluding to and enumerating the things to be passed over, the speaker actually draws attention to them.

A classic example is Cicero, Against Catiline 1.14 (tr. C. Macdonald):
Or again, shortly after you had made room for a new bride by murdering your former wife, did you not compound this deed with yet another crime that defies belief? I do not dwell on this and readily allow it to be glossed over in silence lest it be thought that this state has allowed so heinous a crime to have been committed or to have gone unpunished. I pass over the total ruin to your fortune which you will feel hanging over you on the coming Ides.

Quid vero? nuper, cum morte superioris uxoris novis nuptiis locum vacuefecisses, nonne etiam alio incredibili scelere hoc scelus cumulavisti? quod ego praetermitto et facile patior sileri, ne in hac civitate tanti facinoris immanitas aut exstitisse aut non vindicata esse videatur. Praetermitto ruinas fortunarum tuarum quas omnes proximis Idibus tibi impendere senties.
There is also an amusing example in Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, Our Parish IV (The Election for Beadle):
He would not allude to individuals (the ex-churchwarden continued, in the celebrated negative style adopted by great speakers). He would not advert to a gentleman who had once held a high rank in the service of his majesty; he would not say, that that gentleman was no gentleman; he would not assert, that that man was no man; he would not say, that he was a turbulent parishioner; he would not say, that he had grossly misbehaved himself, not only on this, but on all former occasions; he would not say, that he was one of those discontented and treasonable spirits, who carried confusion and disorder wherever they went; he would not say, that he harboured in his heart envy, and hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. No! He wished to have everything comfortable and pleasant, and therefore, he would say—nothing about him (cheers).

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