Q: Thank you for your article on “not to mention,” a funny phrase since the writer goes on to mention it anyway. Are you aware that the phrase is in Paul’s letter to Philemon (verse 19) and evidently much older than the 1644 example from Milton you cite?
A: You’re right that this use of “not to mention” appeared in English before the Oxford English Dictionary citation that we mention in our 2007 post, which we’ve now updated. But it didn’t show up quite as early as your biblical example suggests.
We’ve found several earlier 17th-century uses, including this one from a treatise on the Anglican liturgy that criticizes the servants of “Don Beel-zebub” for encouraging equivocation and deception:
“Not to mention here their vnsufferable correcting, yea corrupting of all Authors” (An Exposition of the Dominicall Epistles and Gospels Used in Our English Liturgie, 1622, by John Boys, Dean of Canterbury).
As far as we can tell, the use of “not to mention” in the Epistle to Philemon appears in only modern translations of the New Testament, not in older ones.
Here, for example, is Philemon 19 in the New King James Version (1982): “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.”
But this is the passage in the original King James Version (1611): “I Paul haue written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I doe not say to thee how thou owest vnto me euen thine owne selfe besides.”
And here is Filemon 19 in the Wycliffe Bible, written in Middle English in the early 1380s:
“Y Poul wroot with myn hoond, Y schal yelde; that Y seie not to thee, that also thou owist to me thi silf” (“I, Paul, wrote this with my hand, I shall repay it; that I say not to thee, that also thou owest me thy self”).
That Middle English translation is in keeping with early Greek versions of Paul’s epistle. Here’s the relevant Greek passage: “ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι” (“that not I say [or “may say’] to you”).
Although “Y seie not to thee” in the Wycliffe version has the same meaning as “not to mention” in modern translations of Philemon 19, the two usages are not etymologically related.