7 November 2011

Sporting apophasis

There is something of a thrill in finding a reason to comment on a rarely used word. Take apophasis, for example. The Collins English Dictionary defines apophasis as a rhetorical "device of mentioning a subject by stating that it will not be mentioned".

Rare though the word is, an interesting variant of the device is hitting the sports headlines in England at the moment. An allegation has been made that no less a sporting person than the England football captain has been seen using racist language on the pitch. The evidence, according to reports, apparently lies in lip-reading. The defence, as reported, is reminiscent of apophasis, in claiming that the word as lip-read on video is part of a denial that the word had been used.

These are muddy linguistic waters. Does an offensive word become inoffensive if it is used in a statement of denial? It remains to be seen how the incident is viewed by the authorities in England.

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