An Introduction to Aposiopesis
Aposiopesis (derives from the Greek word aposiōpēsis, literally means “to become silent”), is a rhetorical term which is used to denote a situation whereby a speaker breaks off suddenly in mid-sentence, while speaking, and consequently leaving the sentence unfinished; usually with the excuse of being overcome with emotion.
Aposiopesis may be committed when a speaker suddenly stops in the middle of speaking, as if saying more would seem superfluous, or as if words fail one, or as if the listener or reader would now be able to complete the sentence suitably. This usually occur in the moments of emotion as it signals the speaker’s tone and mood at the time.
Triggering Agents of Aposiopesis (with Examples)
Aposiopesis generally occur by reason of three triggers:
A. Loss of Words — This is a common trigger of aposiopesis whereby the speaker may struggle for the right word to say, ending up unsuccessful. As a result, the speaker leaves the word unsaid. In such context, the audience may imaginary figure out what is left unsaid.
B. Handicapped by Emotions: This is another usual trigger of aposiopesis as the speaker suddenly stops halfway in a sentence due to overwhelmness of emotion (fear, excitement or anger). In either case the speaker is unable to articulate further leaving his/her thoughts to the listener or audience with a vague hint of an idea.
In this example (3), the dog-musher stopped twice at the word “only,” the first time being interrupted and the second time being due to his sudden change of mind. We can assume that the dog-musher initially intended to give Scott some advice but he was annoyed by Scott’s rude manner. He did not speak it out though, leaving Scott in the dark about what he meant.
C. A Kind Of Narrative Technique — Aposiopesis may be instrumental in narrating sequential episodes of events adding suspense to the listener’s imagination while achieving that, as the listener is engrossed while guessing the next sequence of events.
Aposipesis is a rhetorical term whereby a sentence is deliberately broken off and left unfinished by the speaker, giving an impression of unwillingness or inability to continue. However, the ending is expected to be supplied by the imagination of the audience.
This device often portrays its users of being overwhelmed with emotion (fear, anger, excitement) or modesty. In signifying the occurrence of Aposiopesis, the punctuation mark “dash” or “ellipsis” (as it’s called) may be used.