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occultatio

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Definition:

The rhetorical strategy of calling attention to something by passing over it quickly and refusing to elaborate on its significance. Known as "gossip's trope." Also called occupatio (see Richard Lanham's observation below).

According to the Rhetorica ad Herennium, occultatio occurs "when we say that we are passing by, or do not know, or refuse to say that which precisely now we are saying." This strategy is nearly always ironic.

See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "concealment, insinuation"

Examples and Observations:

  • "That night on MSNBC's Hardball, [Mark] Penn [chief strategist and pollster to Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign] appeared in a segment from the debate hall spin room with [Joe] Trippi [advisor to John Edwards] and with [David] Axelrod [chief strategist for Barack Obama's campaign] via remote. Chris Matthews asked about the Clinton team's turn toward negativity, and Penn replied, 'The issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising.'

    "'He just did it again! He just did it again! Unbelievable!' Trippi interrupted indignantly, pointing at Penn. 'He just said 'cocaine' again!'

    "'I think you're saying "cocaine,"' Penn chuckled. 'I think you're saying it.'

    "Axelrod shook his head mournfully at the sleaziness on display. Trippi fulminated further. And Penn returned to Clinton's Des Moines headquarters giddy as a schoolgirl, giggling to his colleagues, 'Did you notice how many times I said "cocaine"?'"
    (J. Heilemann and M. Halperin, Game Change. HarperCollins, 2010)


  • "I won’t dwell on the fatuous self-regard and not-quite-believable naïveté of Mr. Jenks, a New York University film school student who made Room 335 when he was 19. Let’s just say that the residents of Harbor Place, the assisted-living center in Florida where he lived and filmed for a month in the summer of 2005, seem more genuinely curious about him than he does about them."
    (Mike Hale, "Film School Meets Assisted Living, With Understanding for All." The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2008)


  • Occultatio and Occupatio
    "An erroneous reading in the Ad Herennium has led to the currency of Occupatio as a synonym [for occultatio]. After a thorough discussion of this error in the tradition, my colleague H.A. Kelly has urged that 'the term occupatio should be retired from present-day use as a rhetorical term.' Let us by all means do so; reducing the number even by one helps clarify the muddle."
    (Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. Univ. of California Press, 1991)


  • A Form of Ironic Denial
    "Another member of the irony family, occupatio is a form of ironic denial A person denies that he or she is going to do something, but the act of denial ironically does the very thing that the person denies he or she is doing. . . . A television commercial for halogen light bulbs enacts a form of occupatio with a humorous touch. The voice-over for the commercial engages in denial, telling the viewers that buying these bulbs will not transform their homes. But visually, this verbal denial is subverted as viewers are shown pictures of homes that have been transformed into palaces."
    (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Sage, 2001)
Pronunciation: ah-kul-TA-see-oh
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