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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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "litotes". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hübler, Axel (1983). Understatements and Hedges in English. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-9027225313.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Monty Python's Meaning of Life Script Part 1". MontyPython.net. Retrieved 5 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Job, Macarthur (1994). Air Disaster Volume 2. Aerospace Publications. pp. 96–107. ISBN 1-875671-19-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>