Congratulations are apparently in order to Mr. Huckabee, both for his win in Iowa and for his familiarity with the classical rhetorical figures. While I’m not in a position to say anything about Mr. Huckabee’s forthrightness or his politics, it was at least amusing to see him on December 31 taking advice more than 2,000 years old:
Occultatio est cum dicimus nos praeterire aut non scire aut nolle dicere id quod nun maxime dicimus, hoc modo: …”Non dico te ab sociis pecunias cepisse; non sum in eo occupatus quod civitates, regna, domos omnium depeculatus es; furta, rapinas omnes tuas omitto.” Haec utilis est exornatio si aut ad rem quam non pertineat aliis ostendere, quod occulte admonuisse prodest, aut longum est aut ignobile. Rhetorica ad Herennium IV.xxvi.37
In Harry Caplan’s 1954 translation:
Paralipsis occurs when we say that we are passing by, or do not know, or refuse to say precisely what we are now saying, as follows: … “I do not mention that you have taken monies from our allies; I do not concern myself with your having despoiled the cities, kingdoms, and homes of them all. I pass by your thieveries and robberies, all of them.” This figure is useful if employed in a matter which it is not pertinent to call specifically to the attention of others, because there is advantage in making only an indirect reference to is, or because the direct reference would be tedious and undignified.
Mr. Huckabee, it would seem, knows his pseudo-Cicero, although I’m not quite as inclined as the New York Times is to call his recent performance in telling reporters that he would not air his negative ad about Mr. Romney (and then showing them the ad he wouldn’t air) “remarkable,” unless it’s in his savvy deployment of paralipsis / occultatio / praeteritio by proxy. However, it did get me into an interesting discussion with a colleague of what the device is actually called. You’ll notice that Harry Caplan takes the Greek term paralipsis as a translation for the Latin occultatio, which is what my colleague wanted to call what Huckabee did, with the emphasis on hiding or obscuring. I had always understood the figure to be referred to as praeteritio, though, with the emphasis (as in pseudo-Cicero’s infinitive praeterire) on ostensibly passing something by, which seems more appropriate to the quoted examples.
So I’m left with a distinction that maybe isn’t a difference. I think paralipsis works fine as a catch-all term for the general practice of saying something by saying we’re not going to say it, but I kinda like the fine-grained distinction we see in the Ad Herennium between saying something by obscuring it (occultatio) and saying something by passing it by (praeteritio). Are they two different things?
And if so, which is the more appropriate term for what Mr. Huckabee did?