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”)
litotes was our Word of the Day on 05/23/2016. Hear the podcast!
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
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