An Introduction to Adianoeta

Adianoeta (etymologically from the Greek, literally means “not noticed”), is a figure of speech which consists in an expression; whereby despite its obvious surface meaning, conveys an additional and unsuspecting subtle meaning underneath.

Expressions in the guise of Adianoeta are regarded as ingenious, daring and eloquent, simply because of their ambiguityOpens in new window.

Notable Example of Adianoeta
  • “Enough,” he said; “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”
    “True – true,” I replied.
  • — (“The Cask of Amontillado,” 6: 170)
    (‘It is indeed true that the intended victim, Fortunato, will not die of a cough, as Montresor suggests, for he has planned another fate for Fortunato: he will wall him up alive, to die eventually by fear, or starvation, or suffocation, or dehydration, deep within the vaults of the Montresor catacombs. Montresor’s concession, “True — true,” is Poe’s way of winking at the reader, who suspects that the unsuspecting Fortuna will certainly not die of a cough.’)
    — (qtd. in Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style)
Important Hint! 

As a figure of speech, this trope is intended to mean that diverse members of an audeience will understand the same expression differently, some let in on the ironic nature of the figure and and some not. Whereas in classical rhetoric it might be the general understanding that the use of adianoeta allows those elites “in the know” to get a better sense of the esoteric meaning of phrase or word than the general audience.

Further Readings:
Quintilian (8.2. p. 20 – 21)