æ-pê-si-ê-pee-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A sudden breaking off of a thought in mid sentence, as though the speaker were unwilling or unable to continue.
Notes: Have you ever begun a sentence and, halfway through, suddenly realize you shouldn't be uttering it? Perhaps you were breaking a confidence or embarrassing whomever you weretalking with. When you stop speaking and change the subject, you have committed aposiopesis. The adjective is aposiopetic; the adverb, aposiopetically.
In Play: Some adages are so familiar, repeating them in toto is unnecessary, so we often say things like, "Early to bed, early to rise . . . ", omitting "makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." That is aposiopesis. It is aposiopesis even if we replace the omitted material with a bland substitute such as, "Marjorie, your new dress is so . . . well, interesting." Clearly, the real sense the speaker wishes to express is being withheld. Again, aposiopesis.
Word History: English essentially confiscated this word whole from Late Latin aposiopesis. The Romans picked up the word from Greek aposiopan "to become silent", made up of apo-, an intensive prefix meaning "very" or "suddenly", + siopan "to be silent", a verb built from siope "silence". The Greeks inherited the word from a Proto-Indo-European root that may have also become German schweigen "be silent" with a different suffix, a -g instead of -p. (We cannot be silent any longer; we must thank Katy Brezger for suggesting today's word.)
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