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litotes

[lahy-tuh-teez, lit-uh-, lahy-toh-teez]
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noun, plural li·to·tes. Rhetoric.
  1. understatement, especially that in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary, as in “not bad at all.”
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Compare hyperbole.

Origin of litotes

1650–60; < New Latin < Greek lītótēs orig., plainness, simplicity, derivative of lītós plain, small, meager
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for litotes

litotes

noun plural -tes
  1. understatement for rhetorical effect, esp when achieved by using negation with a term in place of using an antonym of that term, as in "She was not a little upset" for "She was extremely upset."
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Word Origin

C17: from Greek, from litos small
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for litotes

n.

rhetorical figure in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its opposite, from Greek litotes, literally "plainness, simplicity," from litos "smooth, plain, small, meager," from PIE root *(s)lei- "slimy, sticky, slippery" (hence "smooth"); see slime (n.).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper