Definition of litotes
: understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (as in “not a bad singer” or “not unhappy”)
Did You Know?
Even if you've never heard the word litotes, chances are you've encountered this figure of speech. If you've ever approved of a job well done by exclaiming "Not bad!" or told someone that you are "not unhappy" when you are ecstatic, you've even used it yourself. In fact, you might say that it would be "no mean feat" to avoid this common feature of our language! And litotes isn't only common; it's also "simple" - etymologically speaking, that is. "Litotes" evolved from a Greek word meaning "simple," and perhaps ultimately from another Greek word meaning "linen cloth."
Origin and Etymology of litotes
Greek litotēs, from litos simple, perhaps from lit-, lis linen cloth
First Known Use: 1589
Learn More about litotes
Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about litotes
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up litotes? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).