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(lī`tətēz'), figure of speech in which a statement is made by indicating the negative of its opposite, e.g., "not many" meaning "a few." A form of ironyirony,
figure of speech in which what is stated is not what is meant. The user of irony assumes that his reader or listener understands the concealed meaning of his statement.
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, litotes is meant to emphasize by understating. Its opposite is hyperbolehyperbole
, a figure of speech in which exceptional exaggeration is deliberately used for emphasis rather than deception. Andrew Marvell employed hyperbole throughout "To His Coy Mistress":

An hundred years should go to praise

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The literary device of understatement, the opposite of hyperbole, used to intensify the descriptiveness and expressiveness of speech. Litotes involves the juxtaposition of two heterogeneous elements based on a common feature that is represented to a much lesser degree in the means of comparison than in the object of comparison. Examples include “a little man the size of a thumbnail” (N. A. Nekrasov), “a waist no thicker than a bottleneck” (N. V. Gogol), “the speed of a tortoise,” and “within arm’s reach.” Structurally, a litotes may take the form of a simile, metaphor, or epithet. A considerable number of turns of speech representing litotes are idiomatic (“money squeezed from a cat’s tears”).

(2) The replacement of an affirmative description with a negation of the contrary—for example, “not stupid” instead of “clever” or “I don’t object” instead of “I agree.”

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Litotes exaggerates in the other direction; it creates emphasis by under-describing something, usually by using a negative to assert a positive.
* Euphemism: A combination of litotes and hyperbole used at the same time to simplify and exemplify meaning, and
Si las paradojas ambivalentes y las "metaforas vivas" (Ricoeur) habian sido hasta ahora el recurso mas rentable para la canalizacion de la sensibilidad mistica, ahora para poetizar la experiencia de la Nada, las litotes, logicamente, desempenan un papel determinante:
--Free/optional modulation or oblique translation (changing the point of view): "It is not difficult to show." = "It is easy to show." (such modulation is called a litotes)
(18) Though the appearance of oft (as opposed to a 'always') in this proverb may seem to suggest that wyrd may sometimes behave in other ways, it is worth noting that oft can provide "the temporal generalization required by proverbs, especially if 'oft' is read as litotes for 'always'" (Deskis 2013: 675).
Tous ces leitmotivs grossierement mis en relief sont traites, a travers des metaphores et litotes savamment et habilement mis sur scene, par l'intermediaire des artistes de talent.
If we can communicate our thoughts in a very usual way, the usage of a synecdoche, a metaphor, a metonymy, a litotes, etc.
Obama favors the figure of speech known as litotes, the deliberate understatement.
"Woolf prefers to represent both the war and the 1918 influenza pandemic through litotes or understatement, emphasizing the public repression of emotion toward these catastrophes still common among most of Clarissa's fellow Londoners" (81).
When Jonathan Swift sardonically wrote, "Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her appearance," be was taking advantage of the power of litotes, a deliberate understatement that helps make a point.
The modesty in order to produce a certain acceptation and friends, but figured as having a boomerang effect (a litotes for him a hyperbole for others and, in fact, hyperbole for him), and the choice to sacrifice, making the kitchen of exile, because this side was one of niche.