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Litotes attributed to Queen Victoria


A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite. Adjective: litotic.

See also:


From the Greek, "plainness, simplicity"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Are you also aware, Mrs. Bueller, that Ferris does not have what we consider to be an exemplary attendance record?"
    (Jeffrey Jones as Principal Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)

  • "I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives."
    (Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams, May 7, 1776)

  • "Oh, you think you're so special because you get to play Picture Pages up there? Well, my five year old daughter could do that and let me tell you, she's not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed."
    (Allison Janney as Bren in Juno, 2007)

  • "[W]ith a vigorous and sudden snatch, I brought my assailant harmlessly, his full length, on the not over clean ground--for we were now in the cow yard."
    (Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, 1855)

  • "Because though no beauty by fashion-mag standards, the ample-bodied Ms. Klause, we agreed, was a not unclever, not unattractive young woman, not unpopular with her classmates both male and female."
    (John Barth, "The Bard Award," in The Development: Nine Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)

  • "The grave's a fine a private place,
    But none, I think, do there embrace."
    (Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress")

  • "'Not a bad day's work on the whole,' he muttered, as he quietly took off his mask, and his pale, fox-like eyes glittered in the red glow of the fire. 'Not a bad day's work.'"
    (Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1905)

  • "Now we have a refuge to go to. A refuge that the Cylons know nothing about! It won't be an easy journey."
    (Battlestar Galactica, 2003)

  • "I am not unaware how the productions of the Grub Street brotherhood have of late years fallen under many prejudices."
    (Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, 1704)

  • "for life's not a paragraph
    And death I think is no parenthesis"
    (e.e. cummings, "since feeling is first")

  • "What we know partakes in no small measure of the nature of what has so happily been called the unutterable or ineffable, so that any attempt to utter or eff it is doomed to fail, doomed, doomed to fail."
    (Samuel Beckett)

  • "Keep an eye on your mother whom we both know doesn't have both oars in the water."
    (Jim Harrison, The Road Home. Grove Press, 1999)

  • "We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all."
    (Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address to the Nation, January 20, 1989)

  • "We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry! It's just thrown in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of twelve-year-old boys. Not even the smart twelve-year-olds--the stupid ones! The idiots--of which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network! So why don't you just change the channel? Turn off the TV. Do it right now. Go ahead."
    (Judd Hirsch as Wes Mendell in the pilot episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, 2006)

  • "Understated instead of hyperbolic, [litotes] often seems to turn attention away from itself, like its cousin, paralipsis, which emphasizes something by pretending to ignore it, and it can disarm potential opponents and avoid controversy; yet it emphasizes whatever it touches."
    (Elizabeth McCutcheon, "Denying the Contrary: More's Use of Litotes in the Utopia," in Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More, 1977)

  • "Litotes describes the object to which it refers not directly, but through the negation of the opposite. . . .

    "The account given in various rhetorical textbooks reveals a picture of the rhetorical figure litotes which is--to put it aptly--'not very clear.' . . .

    "I want to claim that the rhetorical figure litotes is one of those methods which are used to talk about an object in a discreet way. It clearly locates an object for the recipient, but it avoids naming it directly."
    (J.R. Bergmann, "Veiled Morality," in Talk at Work: Interaction in Institutional Settings, ed. by Paul Drew and John Heritage. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992)

  • "I'm not doing this for my health."
    (O.J. Simpson, in a paid appearance at a horror comic book convention)
Pronunciation: LI-toe-teez
Also Known As: antenantiosis, moderatour
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