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Language listEdit

"The use of litotes is common in English, Russian, German, Dutch, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and French." This list makes litotes sound exclusive to these languages, or at least marks these languages as somehow more likely to use litotes. It's a very simple construction, most languages in the world probably use it in some form or another. Take a look at the languages this article is translated into, as far as I can tell, most seem to give examples in that language, and even this is far from representative of every language. I know Spanish does just as much as English or French, but it's not on the list. I'm sure a true list would be unworkable/endless, but the phrasing should at least be adjusted to reflect the fact that these are just a few examples, and not the definitive set of litote-using languages. Perhaps something like: Litotes can be found in many languages throughout the world, including English, Russian, German, ... etc. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:13, 20 July 2015 (UTC)

I would like to second this observation. I was surprised to see a list of languages utilizing such a broad concept with an implication the list was comprehensive and more so to see it was definitely incomplete

In Japanese for instance the use of double negatives for understatement, either to avoid giving offense or to project nonchalance, is not only common but in some situations expected to the degree that a straightforward comment would be striking and carry an implication of significant emphasis in the *other* direction. (One of many references:

I think that the list should either be expanded and clarified to be incomplete or removed entirely. FusionTorch (talk) 09:11, 28 February 2018 (UTC)

"You are not wrong"Edit

Am I the only one who understands this as something else then "you're correct"? I always imagined it as a nice way of saying that you are in fact kinda wrong. "You are not wrong, but..." —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:28, 13 May 2011 (UTC)

This is partially correct understanding. It's usually used in context that "The fact you cited is true but irrelevant to the point or relevant in a way that doesn't make you right about the point." You're correct about the little thing but you're still wrong about the big image. (talk) 06:33, 9 October 2012 (UTC)

Is this grammatically correctEdit

"These examples are not terribly difficult to come up with."

I thought you could not use prepositions at the end of the sentence. It would be better to say "...difficult to conjure" or something to that effect, no? (talk) 05:02, 10 February 2010 (UTC)

You can. There's a "rule" that you shouldn't or even mustn't, but it's best to just ignore it. --jae (talk) 23:14, 11 January 2011 (UTC)

Votes for DeletionEdit

  • Litotes and pretty much any term linked from Figures of speech - these are dictionary definitions - DropDeadGorgias 20:43, Feb 24, 2004 (UTC)
    • I've gone through the links from Figures of speech, and these are all of the articles that are purely definitions: Accumulatio, Aposiopesis, Meiosis (figure of speech), Anastrophe, Anthimeria, Catachresis, Chiasmus, Periphrasis, Enallage, Hyperbaton, Metalepsis, Paralipsis, Proslepsis, Syllepsis, Synecdoche, Tmesis, Dystmesis, Zeugma. I don't know what the policy on batch-vfds is, so please let me know. Should I go put the subst:vfd on every page?- DropDeadGorgias 21:17, Feb 24, 2004 (UTC)
      • Relocate 'em all, then delete. (Not my job :D) Oberiko 22:50, 24 Feb 2004 (UTC)
      • Keep or relocate in Wikitionary It is useful to have handy access to these rather obscure terms (speaking as an English/Rhetoric major who could never keep all these things straight). Bkonrad 23:56, 24 Feb 2004 (UTC)
        • I don't dispute the validity of the content, or that the article is educational; I just think it belongs in Wiktionary. Reading most of these articles, I couldn't help thinking that they should all begin with a pronounciation key and (noun). - DropDeadGorgias 15:26, Feb 25, 2004 (UTC)
      • Keep or merge. DrZ 02:22, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)
      • Keep all but one-liners. I don't understand why you singled some of these but skipped others. The one-liners should probably be removed, but many of these terms are important enough to deserve an entery and aren't bad stubs now, like Synecdoche. Cool Hand Luke 05:50, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)
        • I left off the links that pointed to words with other encyclopedic value (beyond the dictionary definitions) such as Allegory or Paradox. My razor may have been to broad though; as it stands, I think Synecdoche could stay. - DropDeadGorgias 15:26, Feb 25, 2004 (UTC)
          • If you acknowledge Synecdoche as an encyclopedic stub, shouldn't you be likewise compelled to keep Aposiopesis, Catachresis, and Chiasmus? Maybe even Metalepsis, Enallage, Paralipsis, Syllepsis, and Tmesis. However, I don't think this is productive. As Nunh-huh says below, these really should be in an encyclopedia, and individual entries are much more sensible. An article on some particualar work or author can link precisely to the literary device they employ. We see just such links to Synecdoche, Tmesis, and Chiasmus. Because these articles are worthy of entry and useful as currently arranged, the only problem is than some of them are just definitions. Put them on cleanup and keep the rest. Nothing about these topics makes them inherently unfit for entry. One could explain about the history of the device or prominent examples of it, just as many of the articles you cite already do. Cool Hand Luke 23:42, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)
      • Keep them all. An encyclopedia must cover language and this is part of encyclopedic language coverage. Jamesday 16:11, 29 Feb 2004 (UTC)
    • An encyclopedia quite clearly needs a full explanation of the figures of speech in it. So does a dictionary. These shouldn't be removed: if you want to pack them into the Figures of Speech article because it seems "more encyclopedic" that would be fine, but the current organization frankly seems more servicable. -- Nunh-huh 05:55, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep. I've put a stub warning and a little extra material into the Litotes article. It's a specialised field, sure, but this is certainly worthy of an article and I suspect the others are too. Just for interest, do any of those wanting to delete have any expertise in formal linguistics? Andrewa 06:00, 26 Feb 2004 (UTC)
      • Actually, I find the articles very educational and interesting (i was able to use the word Synecdoche in a conversation the other day), but I just feel that most of these are really wiktionary material, rather than wikipedia). - DropDeadGorgias 16:32, Feb 27, 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep. Nunh-huh is right. Having a lot of definitions in Wiktionary is fine; but a list all in one place is of great value. I wouldn't waste your time telling why a person might want to find out that the rhetorical figure he's using is called paralipsis; and just the other day I couldn't think of aposiopesis when CIcero was saying--but that's another story. Dandrake 01:49, Feb 28, 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep, reason given above in my reply to the larger list. Jamesday 16:11, 29 Feb 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep. Optim 14:07, 2 Mar 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep. I'm hoping to work on all the pages of rhetorical devices soon (provide examples and whatnot). --Dupes 13:27, 20 May 2004 (UTC)
    • Keep. Fallacious. Litotes is a specific literary term that deserves a page. It needs expansion, not deletion. --Knucmo2 19:00, 12 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • Keep. --Error 21:54, 12 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Except for the last two entires, this vote is over one year old. It just seems like noone ever closed the vote; I don't know how that's done. But the concluision seems clear: Keep!--Niels Ø 18:40, Jun 13, 2005 (UTC)

Esperanto LitotesEdit

Any Esperantists around? How does Esperanto mark litotes? Malmal-? --Trebor, 21 March 2004

Malmal- seems very contrived. I don't remember such forms but in wordplay. I think that - Kiel vi fartas? -Nemalbone. ("- How are you? - Not bad." is more natural. ne- ("not") and mal- (~= "un-") are often not synonyms. The classical example is neutila or senutila ("useless") and malutila ("perjudicial") from utila ("useful"). Don't know if nemalbone qualifies as litotes.
I don't remember examples of nene- or ne ne-, but they may be used. Personally I'd try something like ne sen- ("not *-less") to avoid repetition. Altough, nenecesa (ne-+ necesa, "not necessary") is quite common, so maybe it's not so cacophonic.
(Off-topic) A jokester could try to convince you that derlanda is a synonym of nenederlanda ("not Dutch"), because both ne cancel themselves. Same about malmalajzia" ("un-Malaysian").


I have removed the following passage:

Also in French, the idiomatic saying "ce n'est pas terrible" in English would literally translate as "it isn't terrible" and would therefore appear to be an understatement actually asserting the contrary. But in fact, "ce n'est pas terrible" means that the thing in question really was awful.

This passage is just confused. "Terrible" is a false-friend in French; it means "wonderful" or something of the sort. So "ce n'est pas terrible" is just a straightforward example of litotes, not the odd French usage the author seemed to think. --Christopher M 22:12, 17 February 2006 (UTC)

Um, no. I don't know enough about the subject to really correct the article, but I can tell you that the French word terrible does indeed mean terrible; see terrible - Dictionnaire Français-Anglais, or any other dictionary. Ruakh 00:19, 18 February 2006 (UTC)
I didn't word my objection very well. "Terrible" in French means (in relevant part) something that inspires strong emotion. To say something is "pas terrible" means that it doesn't do that, because it's mediocre. The passage I removed assumed that the "terrible" in "ce n'est pas terrible" means "awful," which it doesn't. --Christopher M 00:41, 28 July 2006 (UTC)
Oh, I see. Apparently (according to Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé), the phrase pas terrible with the meaning médiocre derives from the no-longer-very-common sense Sensationnel, extraordinaire, propre à susciter l'admiration. (Granted, the origin of a phrase is not necessarily the same as its current use — in this case I think pas terrible is pretty much an idiom, usable even by those who don't know about terrible's old-fashioned sense.) Either way, that example has been gone for a while now, so don't worry about it. :-) Ruakh 02:59, 28 July 2006 (UTC)
I actually wondered about "Ce n'est pas terrible" myself. :) I agree with you, 'tis more of an idiom. The inverse can be heard as well "C'est terrible" which can mean something is actually quite good. -dmoore1 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:32, 30 September 2008 (UTC)

Just restructured the examples into wiki-table format. The multi-column structure had a nasty habit of not lining up corresponding bullets if wrapping caused on or the other to span two or more lines. I know there's some controversy about using tables, but this also has the advantage of keeping each litote and meaning close to each other. (Just being bold ;-) (void*) 00:58, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

Sounds good, thanks. :-) —RuakhTALK 07:29, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

"That young girl ... is one of the least benightedly unintelligent organic life forms it has been my profound lack of pleasure not to be able to avoid meeting." Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:12, 7 February 2009 (UTC)

That meal wasn't badEdit

I would dispute that this is an example of Litotes. This is much more a descriptive statement used to describe a meal that, while not unpleasant, certainly was nothing to get excited about, rather than a statement used to emphasize the outstanding quality of the meal. I, however, am a writer that never really studied rhetoric in depth, and would rather defer to someone who knows this better than make the change immediately. Not my leg 21:27, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

I've definitely heard, "That's not bad!" used to mean something like, "That's pretty good (and I didn't expect it to be)!"
I've also heard it in a larger sentence, like "That's not bad, but it's not good, either." (The article alludes to this sort of thing, but makes it sound like it's specific to explicit "not not" constructions, which it isn't. That should be fixed.)
So, it can definitely constitute litotes, and I think it's a good example in that it demonstrates that the same sentence can be litotes in one instance and not in another, but maybe the article should be edited to be more clear about this? Feel free to take a stab at it! Ruakh 04:31, 24 February 2006 (UTC)
I would agree with that. I don't have the time to do a rewrite now, but it is a good example of a case where context is probably more important than just the words themselves, as this could be used either way. Not my leg 19:15, 24 February 2006 (UTC)
Could there be a cultural difference? In tiny Denmark there is: When people from Jutland say "That meal wasn't bad" or "It could be worse" it means "It was really good". People from Copenhagen don't say so, unless they make fun of the Jutlandish litotes. Apus 13:03, 23 November 2006 (UTC)
Really, saying "a is not b" is not the same thing as saying "a is c", where b and c are opposites. If someone were to say (for example) "Richard Nixon was not the worst American President", it is not the same as saying "Richard Nixon was the best President" or even that he was a "good" President, or a "highly-admired" one. -- (talk) 22:23, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
The subtlety is in the intonation. Your example, spoken by a Nixon-supporter, might mean exactly what you deny. The subtlety of litotes is difficult to explain if it is not common in your culture. Evidently Jutland uses the figure of speech, along with most parts of England, but perhaps it is uncommon, and therefore poorly understood, in some areas. dbfirs 23:01, 8 March 2008 (UTC)

The queen was not amused.Edit

litotes? What do you think? Does the Queen say something like "I am not amused" herself or is it always the press that writes this sentence in reference to the ideal of understatement? The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) .

I think the standard line is actually We are not amused; see Pluralis majestatis (royal we). Ruakh 16:37, 28 February 2006 (UTC)
  • Attributed to Victoria Regina, and is unclear whether or not the royal "we" was involved: it has been argued she was speaking on behalf of all the women of the court, supported by the accounts' apparent agreement that ribaldry was involved and presumed by its utterer to be humorous.
    --Jerzyt 22:30, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
  • Not at all obviously an instance of litotes. Provide a source that says it is widely so regarded, since it is OR without that. My own OR suggests that leaving some things unstated often occurs without intent that it should provide emphasis, so litotes should not be inferred without clear agreement on what what obvious fuller statement was foregone.
    --Jerzyt 22:30, 3 February 2010 (UTC)


"Il ne faut pas qu'il aille" means "it is necessary that he not go"

Are you sure about that?

—The preceding unsigned comment was added by PiCo (talkcontribs) .

I don't know what you you're addressing, but I'm sure of it. (Though I'd translate it as "He must not go.") Why? Ruakh 02:54, 12 June 2006 (UTC)
I think this is just a trick of translation. If you translate it, "He must leave" versus "He mustn't leave," the mystery all but disappears.Travis 02:25, 7 August 2006 (UTC)
I'm also unsure about this. My French isn't that great, but I'd be inclined to translate that as "it's not necessary that he go," since, well, that's what it says. Non? The latter would be "Il faut qu'il n'aille pas," would it not? Graft 19:46, 2 November 2006 (UTC)
Non. « Il ne faut pas qu'il aille » means "He must not go." (Don't ask me for an explanation; I don't know of one, except to say that that's simply how it is.) Ruakh 22:32, 2 November 2006 (UTC)
I'd like to point out that "Il ne faut pas qu'il aille" or " Il faut qu'il aille" are incomplete sentences in French so the examples don't make much sense, from my POV. "Il faut qu'il parte" or "Il faut qu'il s'en aille" or, even better, "Il doit partir" would work. And yes, "Il ne faut pas qu'il s'en aille" would be translated as "He mustn't go/leave". The negation is linked to the first verb - "falloir", not the second one. "It is necessary that he not go" would be translated as "Il doit rester", "Il ne faut pas qu'il parte" or "Il ne doit pas partir". "Il doit ne pas partir", which is the closest possible translation, is incorrect. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) .
Good point. Objectless "go" in English can mean either "y aller" or "partir"; I don't know which was intended here. Ruakh 15:42, 4 November 2006 (UTC)

Actually, using falloir is just a bad idea here. The negative of falloir is not 'doesn't have to' but 'must not'. This example, ultimately, is meaningless. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Beastmouth (talkcontribs) 04:06, August 29, 2007 (UTC)

This seems to me to be a bad example. The natural translations are "he must go" and "he must not go", at which point the example doesn't seem to exemplify anything. I'd argue that, in "he must not go", it's reasonable to parse as "he (must not) go", i.e., the negation is bound to the "must", not the "go" -- after all, "he cannot go" definitely doesn't mean "he has the option of not going". (I am not a linguist.) Dricherby 12:22, 8 October 2007 (UTC)

But "he (must not) go" is a misparse; it produces the wrong meaning. That's why this is so confusing: some auxiliary verbs, like can, parse one way ("he (cannot) go", not "he can(not go)"), others parse the other way ("he must (not go)", not "he (must not) go"), and some can parse either way ("he (may not) go" or "he may (not go)" are both valid — but non-synonymous — parses). —RuakhTALK 17:33, 8 October 2007 (UTC)

Oedipus QuoteEdit

My immediate reaction (without any research) is that unhappy had a stronger meaning at the time of that translation (or one closer to unlucky). One often sees it used this way in classical texts where litotes would seem inappropriate. However, citation needed. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 05:09, 11 August 2007 (UTC).

response to some Litotes does not matter.Edit

It would seem that some Litotes, like "The food was not bad.", will draw a positive response when responded to. for example, your friend says "The food was not bad." you reply, "Yeah", You are agreeing with your friend. if you said "No", you would still be agreeing. The statement "That was no big deal." has the same sort of response forcing effect. Is there another term for this, or is this just a subsection of what a Litote is? Also, reading the article makes me wonder if anyone knows the singular form for Litotes, it seems as if using a singular form of the word was intentionally avoided, to confuse anyone who might decide to refer to a single one. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Mad Gouki (talkcontribs) 15:56, 24 October 2007 (UTC)

Litotes or understatement?Edit

In Frisian we always say "That doesn't itch" when somebody gets a terrible accidents or undergoes very heavy pains. I was wondering, is that litotes or is it an understatement? -SK-luuut 21:49, 15 November 2007 (UTC)

Litotes is kind of understatement; but not all understatement is litotes. However it seems to me that if "That doesn't itch" means "That is very painful" or indeed "That hurst like hell" then it is an example of litotes.Iph (talk) 16:50, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

Major revisionEdit

I have taken the liberty of doing a major revision of this article. Referring back to the OED, Enc. Brit. and some other dictionaries including a Larousse in French, the author of much of the preceding v. I found was seriously mistaken about what constitutes litotes. A figure of speech, or a trick of rhetoric, is not something that applies only to one phrase in an utterance; it applies to the whole thing. Therefore the example of a negated phrase that was part of a longer utterance and did not have the effect of subtly achieving emphasis by understatement is not a case of litotes.

Further, the entire section about the meaning of the displaced negation in French has a point, and I actually rewrote it so that it was true (what I found missed the point it was trying to make); but then after reflecting again on all the definitions of this term in the authorities I concluded that that was not about litotes at all, so I deleted it.

It would be nice to know where the correct point belongs and to put it there. It is a sort of figure of speech or a syntactical phenomenon but for the moment its identification escapes me.

For convenience, this is what it said before I arrived:

... in French, the sentence "Il faut qu'il aille" means "It's necessary that he go," while its opposite, "Il ne faut pas qu'il aille," means "it is not necessary that he go," which is much stronger than its English counterpart.

This is what I left until I deleted it altogether (as unrelated to litotes):

in colloquial French, whereas the sentence "Il faut qu'il aille" means "It's necessary that he go", its opposite, "Il ne faut pas qu'il aille" (literally "It is not necessary that he go") is actually said usually with the meaning "He must not go", which is much stronger than its literal English counterpart.

Iph (talk) 16:50, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

Litotes in English vs other languages?Edit

To start in theme, this article is not bad; however, it seems to suggest the misleading idea that litotes is a phenomenon strictly linked to each language, in particular, that is something typical of English, and exported or just occasionally present in other languages. While it is true that polite English uses in a master way this rhetoric figure, often with ironic meaning, the article forgets that litotes is a greek word ( λιτότης), and that in fact the definition and classification of the rhetoric figures is due to the Greek culture. The sentence

In Latin, an example of litotes can be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses: "non semel" ,

as it were a hapax, sounds a bit odd or ridicolous, for there are hundreds and hundreds of examples in every Latin author as well as, of course, in every Greek one (although the article quotes none...). It's like saying:

"In English, an example of personal pronoun can be found in Dickens' David Copperfield" etc. --PMajer (talk) 16:57, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

Orwell and LitotesEdit

It's quite wrong-headed to say that Orwell is against litotes in general. "He was not cruel" is a litote; "He was not unmerciful" is merely a vague and sloppy way of saying "He was merciful". It is the latter, the "not un-" construction, that bothered him. Indeed, the passage from the King James Ecclesiastes that he quotes in "P&EL" as an example of great writing is arguably the world's most famous litote. Quoth Orwell:

"One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field."

I'm removing that claim, which is at best seriously misleading, and at worst wrong. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:24, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

Not entirely unlike teaEdit

Does that famous line from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fit as an example? KingAlanI (talk) 05:49, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

I don't think so. The line in context describes a substance that is almost, but not quite entirely unlike tea. The statement is comedic, for sure. It sounds like it says something without saying anything at all. The described substance is compared with something with which it doesn't compare. An apple is almost, but not quite entirely unlike an orange. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:29, 14 October 2010 (UTC)

I disagree. Taking the sentence apart and removing all negations, you come up with "minimally similar to tea." The comedic effect is in "unlike" used in a phrase where traditionally "like" is used, similarly to "floating in air like bricks don't." Still, whether that's litotes is arguable. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:48, 9 October 2012 (UTC)

My take on "not _______"Edit

Sometimes the words used by other people are ambiguous. Sometimes discussions/arguments over degrees of meaning can be difficult to understand or to tie to actual events/objects. Word have import. So if someone says something that I agree with but don't know for sure that we are on the same page, I might say "It's certainly not a controversial comment." when someone else says "It's a fact." ... when I'm not sure the context or any special meanings or maybe jargon that others may share. Benvhoff (talk) 04:18, 14 August 2012 (UTC)

Where is the EMPHASIS?Edit

The article says the a Litotes is an understatement used for emphasis. Most of the examples are just phrases using "not x" In some cases this is used for de-emphasis. That is, they are not understaments, but euphemisms. That is, if you say someone is not skinny, because you want to point out they are fat, it is Litotes, but if you are doing it to avoid saying they are fat, it is euphemism. I am not sure what it is if you call someone not skinny, but think they are neither fat nor skinny, but it is not an understatement. Tinynanorobots (talk) 16:27, 22 November 2012 (UTC)

I'm sorry but I don't agree. Saying a person is plump or hefty or stalky or heavy or even overweight may be euphemisms for fat. But if you say that such a person is "not skinny" you are usually emphasizing their obesity. As in "Strange that my mother in law talks about my paunch when she's not exactly skinny herself." Do you think that's euphemism? SBHarris 18:46, 22 November 2012 (UTC)
interesting. it really depends on context and enunciation. i think if i heard you saying that sentence, i would know much more what you meant, than if i just read it. it reminds me of the discussion about the need for a sarcasm font.... Soosim (talk) 06:55, 23 November 2012 (UTC)


I don't know what illiterate cult the author belongs to but their interpretation of Ecclesiastes 7:17 is completely wrong. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:28, 8 February 2013 (UTC)

How do you use "litotes" in a sentence?Edit

Can you say "this is a litotes"? Or do you have to say "this is an example of litotes"?Hypershock (talk) 06:33, 30 April 2019 (UTC)

Return to "Litotes" page.