Litotes

From Academic Kids

In rhetoric, litotes is a figure of speech in which the speaker emphasizes the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite. The literal meaning of a litotes is "not X (but not necessarily Y)", but a litotes is an understatement, actually meaning "very much Y". As with many figures of speech, the correct interpretation of litotes therefore depends on the cultural setting.

Examples:

  • "... no ordinary city." Acts 21:39 (NIV)
  • "That edge was not useless / to the warrior now." (Beowulf; about a sword)
  • "He was not unfamiliar with the works of Dickens."
  • "The food wasn't bad."

In colloquial speech, some people may say "not NOT good" to mean "not bad" ("not necessarily bad or good"). Esperanto, for example, possibly uses this construction for litotes: "malmalbona", literally "notnotbad".

The meaning of some litotes varies among different languages. For instance, the French phrase "il ne faut pas qu'il aille," which translates literally as "it is not necessary that he go" (which in English suggests that can either stay or go), actually means "he must not go."

See also

Template:Ling-stubde:Litotes fr:Litote it:Litote nl:Litotes

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