litotes

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noun li·to·tes \ˈlī-tə-ˌtēz, ˈli-, lī-ˈtō-ˌtēz\

Definition of litotes

plural

litotes

  1. :  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

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms


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