I won’t even mention the auto-da-fé

Two intriguing concepts, and the (rare) vocabulary to go with. First, a Facebook comment on my Squirrel Girl posting:

You won’t tempt me into making off color and sexist statements like “I’d like to grab HER by the tail!”

(The comics character Squirrel Girl has a bushy tail.) This is mentioning by ostentatiously not mentioning: apophasis (aka praeteritio or antiphrasis, or in an extreme version, prolepsis).

And then I woke today to the strains of

What a day, what a day
For an auto-da-fé

from the 1956 musical Candide. From NOAD2:

 auto-da-fé: the burning of a heretic by the Spanish Inquisition

apophasis. From Wikipedia:

Apophasis [aka praeteritio or antiphrasis] … is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up. Accordingly, it can be seen as a rhetorical relative of irony.

… As a rhetorical device, apophasis can serve a number of purposes.

It can be employed to raise an ad hominem or otherwise controversial attack while disclaiming responsibility for it, as in, “I refuse to discuss the rumor that my opponent is a drunk.” This can make it a favored tactic in politics.

Apophasis can be used passive-aggressively, as in, “I forgive you for your jealousy, so I won’t even mention what a betrayal it was.”

… Apophasis can be used to discuss a taboo subject, as in, “We are all fully loyal to the emperor, so we wouldn’t dare to claim that his new clothes are a transparent hoax.”

… When apophasis is taken to its extreme, prolepsis occurs, and the speaker provides full details, stating or drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over: “I will not stoop to mentioning the occasion last winter when our esteemed opponent was found asleep in an alleyway with an empty bottle of vodka still pressed to his lips.”

The rhetorical figure has been recently prominent, thanks to Helmet GrabPussy’s predilection for it. See a 7/30/16 Language Log posting “But I was going to say that but now I won’t say it”, on praeteritio ‘passing over’ in his speeches, with citations of others who have noted the man’s fondness for the figure.

auto-da-fé. An interesting word history here. From Wikipedia:

An auto-da-fé or auto-de-fé (from Portuguese auto da fé, meaning “act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition, Portuguese Inquisition or the Mexican Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed.

The most extreme punishment imposed on those convicted was execution by burning. In popular usage, the term auto-da-fé, the act of public penance, came to mean the burning at the stake.

A contemporary illustration of the auto-da-fé held at Validolid Spain 5/21/1559:


And on the musical (often billed as an operetta — compare Show Boat and Most Happy Fella), from Wikipedia:

Candide is an operetta with music composed by Leonard Bernstein, based on the novella of the same name by Voltaire. The operetta was first performed in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman; but since 1974 it has been generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler which is more faithful to Voltaire’s novel. The primary lyricist was the poet Richard Wilbur. Other contributors to the text were John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, John Mauceri, John Wells, and Bernstein himself. Maurice Peress and Hershy Kay contributed orchestrations. Although unsuccessful at its premiere, Candide has now overcome the unenthusiastic reaction of early audiences and critics and achieved enormous popularity.


Here you can watch Lenny B. conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in the auto-da-fé number in 1989. With extraordinary energy and evident pleasure. Hey, kids, let’s stage a mass execution!

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