Is there a simple rhetorical term for implying something untrue by qualifying clauses?

What I mean is like this.

Assume “John has not stolen from his employer” is a true statement.

But if In a debate I say “John has not stolen from his employer, this year

I’ve obviously implied John stole from his boss previously, but haven’t actually told a lie I can be caught in, my statement is 100% true.

Is there a simple term for that sort of thing?

There’s probably a more specific term, but it’s an example of damning with faint praise.

A reversal of the commonly used exclusionary detailing?


It is at least a common form of it.

Someone once said, “Never rape anyone over five years of age.” He was shouted down as a monster…but it was good advice. All rape is bad.

The “natural” interpretation of English language is to presume that clauses exist for a valid purpose. It’s very natural to interpret that statement as implying it’s “okay” to rape someone who is five years of age or younger. But it actually doesn’t say that: that’s the inverse of the statement, which is different from the statement itself.

“Innuendo” is a good term for manipulative use of such clauses.

Weasel wording.

It could be termed an incomplete truth. Hence the need to swear a witness to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

expressio unius est exclusio alterius

“When did you stop beating your wife?” Is described as a “Loaded Question”. Not quite the same thing; could it be a “Logical Fallacy”?

No. The logical fallacy is the inference that, because John hasn’t stolen this year, it is more likely that he did so in previous years. But it’s the hearers who make this inference, not the speaker.

A speaker implying something he’s not saying explicitly but intended to be inferred by the audience is imo the very definition of rhetoric …

As for the OP’s question: I don’t think ‘weasel words’ is the right category. Although broad and vague, this is the category where a speaker implies that some claim or position is supported by scientific proof or a majority. Textbook examples: ‘studies show …’, ‘It is often said …’ and ‘I speak for many when I say …’

I’m afraid the addition of *this year *as in the example falls in the even broader category of Humor. The topic discussed in this hypothetical debate is apparently John’s trustworthiness, ethical standards and/or criminal record. Then it would go something like: ‘Well, John hasn’t stolen from his employer …’ [pause to let the audience process the message ‘John is not a thief’… then deliver the punchline:] ‘… this year’ [drummer goes badum-ching]

if there ever was a proper thread in which to share one of my favourite Dilbert cartoons, it’s this one.

One of Mitch Hedburg’s famous jokes: “I used to do drugs. I still do drugs, but I used to too.” This plays on the fact that “used to” tends to imply that the activity as ceased, while it could just mean that it happened in the past. One generally makes the inference that it stopped happening since otherwise one would say “I have been doing drugs for some time now” if that was the case, and the line plays with this general inference.

I don’t know of a rhetorical term for it though.

Tvtropes calls it “Suspiciously Specific Denial”.

This is comparable to how you add emphasis, right? Such as saying

“John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying he has stolen from someone else)


John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying someone else stole something from his employer)

“John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying he didn’t steal anything, or that the speaker chooses not to define the action as stealing, but perhaps as borrowing for example)

“John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying John perhaps stole for his employer, from someone else)

“John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying John stole from another employer than his own)

and the one that seems to reinforce the original statement:

“John has not stolen from his employer.” (reinforcing the negation of John stealing)

John has not stolen from his employer.” (implying the speaker doesn’t really know what they’re implying)

After about 20 minutes happily traipsing the wonderful Forest of Rhetoric website, I’ve come up with* adianoeta.*The site is here; I couldn’t get that entry to show as a direct url, so you’ll have to search it (if you want).

Probably there are more discreet ones having to do with that particular type of twist in the qualification.

I’m sorry, should have provided the damn definition myself:
An expression that, in addition to an obvious meaning, carries a second, subtle meaning (often at variance with the ostensible meaning).

Related Figures

Adianoeta is a kind of irony, since it uses terms that imply a different meaning than they denote; however, adianoeta counts on carrying both its meanings, playing off how different audiences will understand the same locution (one, literally; the other, ironically).
Like adiamonta, allegory employs both the surface meaning or literal use of words as well as the symbolic meanings of words.

Another example I found:

‘That play was rubbish!’
‘Indeed, sir. When I think of the play, I shall think of you.’

Not a rhetorical term, but… The exception proves the rule. The phrasing implies that “this year” is an exception, so you are implying the rule is the opposite of that exception.

A deflective attribution:

*“I’m not saying it, but some might say he’s disqualified from being President because he’s not a citizen.”