Don’t Think About Elephants

You are taking a trip to either India or Africa, hey I told you not to think about pachyderms.  The Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Problem refers to the psychological process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts makes them more likely to surface.  When we try not to think of something, one part of our mind does avoid the forbidden thought, but another part responds every so often to make sure the thought is not coming up, thus ironically bringing that thought into our minds. You just checked your bags in at the counter and the airline attendant put them on a conveyor.  They go through a bomb detection system and one of your bags gets pulled off for further inspection.  As the other bags go on to their destination, all your focus stays with the bag that was flagged, but I won’t mention it any more.

The term apophasis is used in various types of communications as a language technique to infer or propose something by emphasizing what it is not, or by ironically rejecting or denying or introducing a notion, and then the speaker withdraws or distances themselves from the fact that they just raised, stated or mentioned.  If you deny your intention to speak about a subject that you have just named or insinuated, that would be considered as an apophatic remark.

The word paralipsis resembles parallel and parallax, as they all have the same Greek root ‘para’ in common which means ‘alongside’.  The Greeks word ekleipsis means ‘a forsaking’ or ‘abandonment’, as the sun leaves the sky when the moon passes over it.  The word relinquere stems from Latin meaning to ‘leave behind, forsake, abandon, give up’, and it was derived from the Greek word leipein meaning ‘to leave’. The lipsis part of the word paralipsis comes from leipein ‘leave’, so the roots combine to make “leave alongside”, which happens to be the meaning of paralipsis.  Paralipsis is an example of apophasis.

A paralipsis is something that you say that you won’t talk about, because it is insignificant thus it should be passed over.  This rhetorical device in which an idea is emphasized by the pretence that it is too obvious to discuss that particular suggestion, by deliberately treating this subject or topic in a concise manner, much of significance is being omitted, as when one adds the phrase “not to mention”.  It is defined as a rhetorical device in which an idea is deliberately suggested through a brief treatment of a subject, while most of the significant points are omitted or left aside because some points are too obvious to mention.  Paralipsis is used to deliberately emphasize or assert an idea by pretending that you are ignoring it or passing over it, so when you get to India or Africa with all of your bags, you won’t be thinking about elephants.

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