from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, as in This is no small problem.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A figure of speech in which the speaker emphasizes the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite; a figure of speech in which understatement is used with negation to express a positive attribute; a form of irony

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A diminution or softening of statement for the sake of avoiding censure or increasing the effect by contrast with the moderation shown in the form of expression; a form of understatement.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In rhetoric, a figure in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary. Thus, “a citizen of no mean city” means one “of an illustrious city.”

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. understatement for rhetorical effect (especially when expressing an affirmative by negating its contrary)


Greek lītotēs, from lītos, plain; see lei- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Ancient Greek λιτότης (litotēs), from λιτός (litos, "simple"). (Wiktionary)



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  • "He was not exactly ugly (a litotes)."
    Oreo by Fran Ross, p 182 of the New Directions paperback

    October 7, 2015

  • Not difficult to remember :)

    July 22, 2012

  • Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition

    September 29, 2010

  • different from zeugma, apparently. Or do I mean ellipsis?

    June 19, 2008

  • Not a bad word. ;-)

    September 23, 2007

  • "Well, this doesn't suck."

    September 23, 2007