Monday, September 4th, 2017...4:43 pmhrbekm

No Literary Term Is Worth the Aggravation

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Common in political rhetoric but evidently scarce in popular music, occupatio is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker draws attention to a point by pretending to avoid it. Also known as paralipsis, it often involves the use of a phrase like “I won’t talk about . . .” followed by a reference to the precise thing that the speaker is claiming not to mention. Given that we encounter occupatio in everything from interpersonal conversations to the speeches of world leaders, I was surprised at how few songs came to mind that employ it outright.

One that does is “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” from the Disney film Hercules. The song plays out as a conversation between the Muses and the character Meg as she grapples with her romantic feelings for the titular protagonist. A representative excerpt begins with Meg insisting, “No chance, no way / I won’t say it, no, no,” followed by the Muses’ line, “Give up, give in / Check the grin; you’re in love,” and Meg’s response, “This scene won’t play / I won’t say I’m in love.” In one sense she is reacting to the Muses’ allegation, but her main conflict is internal. Meg contradicts her assertion that she is not in love by criticizing her own judgment and alluding to the reasons for her hesitancy with lyrics like “I thought my heart had learned its lesson” and “No man is worth the aggravation.” The concluding line of the song contains perhaps the strongest example of occupatio: “At least out loud, I won’t say I’m in love.” After re-evaluating this song with regard to the given rhetorical device, I am better able to appreciate its irony. It is an admission framed as a denial, with the lyrics confirming exactly what they claim to refute.


  • I really like this term as well as the example you chose. I think the end of this post got me thinking the most. Occupatio has a lot to do with honesty and people’s hesitation to use honesty. It’s a way of being yourself without the full responsibility.

  •   Professor Seiler
    September 6th, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Melanie–I’m with Megan. This is a great example of occupatio. What’s especially interesting is that occupatio is often associated with (men) bragging (e.g. “I wouldn’t say I’m a genius but…”) or with gossip (e.g., “I don’t like to talk out of school, but did you hear…?”). In your example, as in so many pop love songs, the occupatio reflects the singer/speaker hiding her emotions from herself… or trying and failing to! Nice job.

  • I love that you chose a song from Hercules! As a proud Disney addict, I appreciate that I was ‘forced’ to listen to “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love).” Megan brought the fear of honesty to the table as a reason to use occupatio, and I’ll add pride as another, supported by a Muse’s proclamation, “Girl don’t be proud, it’s okay, you’re in love.”

  • I love that you chose a song from Hercules! As a proud Disney addict, I appreciate that I was ‘forced’ to listen to “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love).” Megan commented on the tactic of using occupatio to avoid being honest, and I’ll add that hiding behind pride is another reason to employ it. As a Muse proclaims, “Girl don’t be proud/ It’s okay you’re in love.”

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