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Understatement is a form of speech or disclosure which contains an expression of lesser strength than would be expected. Understatement may be employed for emphasis,[1] for humour, or ironically. This is not to be confused with euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression, though understatement too can be used to moderate something that might seem harsh.[2]

The figure of speech used in understatement, litotes, is always deliberate.[1]

In English culture

Understatement is often associated with traditional English culture,[3] where it may be used for comic effect,[4][5] or may refer to the verbally calm English way of dealing with extreme situations.[6][7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 
  2. "litotes". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  3. Hübler, Axel (1983). Understatements and Hedges in English. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-9027225313. 
  4. "Monty Python's Meaning of Life Script Part 1". MontyPython.net. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  5. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, rev. 4th ed., Anonymous, 14:12, which notes that the quote is "probably apocryphal".
  6. "The day 650 Glosters faced 10,000 Chinese". The Daily Telegraph. 20 April 2001. 
  7. Job, Macarthur (1994). Air Disaster Volume 2. Aerospace Publications. pp. 96–107. ISBN 1-875671-19-6.