e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Litotes – a new-to-me word

I’m quite a fan of understatements and decided to look some up on the web. While browsing around I came across another word: litotes, which is a special kind of understatement.

The Free Dictionary gives several definitions and examples including the following:

A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, as in ‘This is no small problem‘.

I always enjoy new words and this one sounds very learned. Also some of the sources the Free Dictionary quotes consider it to be a plural. I’m not sure it gets used as a plural – if an author includes only one in his work can a reader talk about ‘these litotes are …’ or ‘this litotes is …’. I think I would go for the latter.

I doubt if I will actually ever be able to work it into my conversation. If I did would I sound learned or pretentious?


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6 thoughts on “Litotes – a new-to-me word

  1. Thesaurus is my favorite book. New words for old words. Always learner when uncommon words are use. I would think.


  2. Don’t want to show off but I mention litotes in Back to Creative Writing School ebook…and quote a couple of lines from Andrew Marvell. But it’s not all high minded – the next example of understatement I give is this old joke :

    A husband comes home from work to find his wife being chased around the kitchen by a murderer with a large axe. The man assesses the situation and asks, “Shall I get my own dinner then, dear?”


  3. I would say learned, because I would look the meaning up if you would use it. Never heard of it either before.


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