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Word of the Day
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Definitions for litotes

  1. Rhetoric. 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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Citations for litotes
"For Danny's house was not unlike the Round Table and Danny's friends were not unlike the knights of it." ... With the use of the litotes, Steinbeck suggests we are not to take the parallel of the Round Table too closely. Thomas Fensch, Introduction to Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (1902–1968), 1997
Litotes’ ability to draw attention to something by appearing to ignore or diminish it is attractive to politicians because it’s the rhetorical equivalent of having your cake and eating it. Martin Shovel, "Litotes: the most common rhetorical device you've never heard of," The Guardian, March 26, 2015
Origin of litotes
Litotes may be familiar nowadays only to those who read Cicero’s orations in high school. The Greek noun lītótēs has the general meaning “plainness, simplicity,” and as a rhetorical term “assertion by understatement or negation.” A famous example of assertion by negation occurs in the New Testament (Acts 21:39), where St. Paul says that he is “…a citizen of no mean city” (Tarsus in Cilicia), i.e., that Tarsus was an important city. Meiosis in its rhetorical sense is often used as a synonym for litotes, but meiosis is restricted to understatement rather than the double negative. Litotes entered English in the mid-17th century.