"But I was going to say that but now I won't say it"

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One of Donald Trump's characteristic rhetorical devices is praeteritio ("passing over"), where the speaker says something by saying they're not going to say it. An especially nice specimen came up in a rally in Iowa on Thursday:

So should I hit these people? No I won't.
But so here's what happened.
So this very very great governor —
like your governor's a great governor —
this very great guy's a friend of mine calls me up.
How's it going?
I said man! I been hit.
These people are hittin me,
I'm gonna go — and I was all set —
I was gonna go, and I was gonna talk about each individual one of them,
I was gonna say that De Blasio's the worst mayor in the history of our city but I couldn't say it,
oh he's a terrible mayor,
probably won't be there too long cuz he's got problems like you wouldn't believe,
but he's a terrible mayor.
But I was gonna say that but now I won't say it.
But- but I was gonna talk about other people, so
viciously because I have so many things to say.
And he goes no, what are you doing?
I said, what are you talkin about?
He said don't hit there.

I'm far from the first person to have noticed this characteristic of Mr. Trump's style. He's even featured in the Wikipedia entry for this rhetorical device, which cites Igor Bobik, "He Would Never Say It, But This Is Donald Trump’s Favorite Rhetorical Device", Huffington Post 2/6/2016, and quotes these examples:

"I promised I would not say that [Carly Fiorina] ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, that she laid off tens of thousands of people and she got viciously fired. I said I will not say it, so I will not say it."

"I refuse to call [Megyn Kelly] a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct."

In the De Blasio riff quoted above, Trump puts front-and-center an aspect of this device that is usually only implicit: breaking the "fourth wall" and talking with the audience as if they were behind the scenes with him, discussing his choices in public rhetoric.


  1. BillR said,

    July 30, 2016 @ 9:15 am

    How long has it been since rhetoric was even taught in school any more?

    [(myl) There are plenty of rhetoric courses around, and a much larger number of units on rhetoric in the context of more general courses — though it's certainly true that that it's been a long time since the trivium of Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic was considered the foundation of elementary education. But who needs courses when you have Google?]

    His followers don't care what it's called, or that it's considered a less-than-rigorous form of argument. They just love that he "gets away" with it.

    [(myl) In fairness to Trump, this is a device that Cicero among other great orators used freely.]

    He's the archetypical bully who can dish it out but can't take it when someone throws it back at him.

  2. When will Hillary Clinton give up her candidacy ? - Page 422 said,

    July 30, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

    […] of people and she got viciously fired. I said I will not say it, so I will not say it." http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=27091 And there's a lot more at the link below demonstrating how Trump uses a LOT of typical […]

  3. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    July 30, 2016 @ 5:21 pm

    The creator of the Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams, has talked a lot on his blog about Trump's knack for publicizing himself and his ideas in counterintuitive ways. For example, a rational academic might think that you want to do your best to avoid uttering blatant falsehoods in public, but a skilled self-promoter understands that what ultimately matters is not whether some people criticize you for inaccuracy or even lying, but that as many people as possible are talking about you at all.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't surprise me that Trump resorts to those classical rhetorical techniques that, on the face of it, involve logical contradiction.

  4. Faldone said,

    July 31, 2016 @ 6:07 am

    This goes beyond praeteritio. Standard praeteritio would be to say, e.g., "I'm not saying Joe Blow can't even tie his shoe laces." What Drumpf is saying here is "Joe Blow can't even tie his shoe laces. I'm not saying it, but he can't tie his shoe laces."

    [(myl) Metapraeteritio? Hyperpraeteritio? Trumperitio? ]

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 31, 2016 @ 8:36 pm

    Also called preterition, and paralipsis or paraleipsis, not to mention apophasis. There's no need to add antiphrasis and parasiopesis.

  6. Viseguy said,

    July 31, 2016 @ 8:56 pm

    Or, more stylishly: "… I couldn't possibly comment."

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