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This is a real conversation. My friend is working as a psychologist intern, and I was amazed by her work.

  • My friend: In my last internship I really enjoyed to work with patients with anxiety disorder, depression and OCD in a psychiatry.
  • Me: That sounds fun, and stressful at the same time. It usually takes me lots of energy to consult a friend in trouble, not to say several patients.

Immediately after saying that, I wonder if the use of "not to say" is being used correctly in this context. I feel it's odd because I'm the one helping my friend, and my friend is the one who works with the patients, so the term "not to say" doesn't connect the two things well here.

What do you think? Is there a better way to express this?

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    It's not only okay, and equal to let alone, but everything is forgiven in conversation. – Yosef Baskin Dec 2 '20 at 23:23
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    This is probly not the right place for not to say; that's better with a clause complement. If you're just gonna use a NP, try let alone, which has a very thorough analysis. – John Lawler Dec 2 '20 at 23:24
  • Thanks for your suggestions, let alone really sounds more natural to the ear here. I still wonder if not to say or not to mention is ok here, and why, though. – lehoang Dec 2 '20 at 23:33
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    I think let alone and not to mention are fine. However, not to say (at least in American English), is extremely unusual in this context. – Jim Simson Dec 4 '20 at 1:59
  • "Not to say" is a tricky idiom, not one that can be easily explained. – Hot Licks Dec 8 '20 at 1:45
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The easy answer is to refer to Merriam Webster:

"not to say" (idiom) = used to introduce a more forceful or critical way of describing someone or something

"He was impolite, not to say downright rude!"

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/not%20to%20say

But why does this construct work? I suspect that the underlying understanding is often something like:

  • "He was impolite, not to say downright rude!" =>
  • "He was impolite, (which is) not to say (anything about the further aspect that he was) downright rude!"

Your own quotation might similarly be seen as a concise version:

  • "It usually takes me lots of energy to consult a friend in trouble, not to say several patients." =>
  • "It usually takes me lots of energy to consult a friend in trouble, (which is) not to say (anything about the further aspect that I use lots of energy to consult ) several patients."
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  • John Lawler argues against the 'might similarly be seen'. He'd opt for 'let alone'; informally, I'd use 'never mind'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 7 '20 at 17:30
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    You have used quote offsets in three places. The first is from Merriam-Webster. Where are the others from? P.S. I disagree with the reasoning in the last two. My guess is that "not to say" is used to indicate that the previous adective was euphemistic, i.e. "I would like to say that he was downright rude, but I won't say that, instead I shall say he was impolite". – chasly - supports Monica Dec 7 '20 at 17:44
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    @chasly-supportsMonica Thanks for the formatting correction. Helpful. Some of my inexperience of the site still showing, eh? I can't agree wholeheartedly with your other point. rude and impolite do not contrast well and one is not a euphemism for the other. He was both. I would agree with you if we had a milder term in the first position, such as in "... downright plain-speaking, not to say rude" – Anton Dec 7 '20 at 18:24
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not to say is one of the commonest introductory phrase for paralipsis (a.k.a. apophasis),

OED paralipsis n. The rhetorical device of emphasizing or drawing attention to something by professing to say little or nothing about it, or affecting to dismiss it (usually with such phrases as not to mention, to say nothing of, etc.)

It can be associated with insults and revealing embarrassing details about people:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophasis:

"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?'"

But can cover positive points

"You may know John as a timid person, so I will not mention his winning two medals for bravery."

But in both cases, it is usually reserved for something that the other party does not want exposed.

Your

Me: That sounds fun, and stressful at the same time. It usually takes me lots of energy to consult a friend in trouble, not to say several patients.

is not a good fit for paralipsis, as you do not intend or need to draw attention to "several patients", which has already been mentioned as he has said it - thus he does not mind it being known.

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