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Litotes

 

Techniques > Use of language > Litotes

Method | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Method

If you want to affirm something as true in an understated, quiet way, you can do this by taking the opposite of what you want to say and then turning it back into a positive by negating it.

Example

Oh well, that is not an unimportant thing.

That's not bad.

Discussion

Litotes is a fancy name for a common twist of the language where a person expresses an affirmative by negating its contrary. In effect, this is a double negative.

When twists, such as this, are put into language, it often acts as a form of apologetic, expressing a certain amount of embarrassment at having to say this thing.

Twists also make the listener think harder to work out what is really being said. This can be deliberate use of confusion or seeking to sustain attention.

The use of litotes can also give away the speaker's bias, as saying 'not bad' implies that you are thinking more about bad than good.

A synonym is meiosis (which is also used to describe cell-division, in which it is also spelled meioses).

Classification: Distortion. Reversal

See also

Antithesis, Attention principle, Confusion principle

 

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