(also called meiosis)

What is understatement?

Understatement is using words to deliberately make something sound smaller, slower, less significant (less important) etc. than it really is.

Using understatement

Understatement can be used as a way of joking, showing a lack of enthusiasm, avoiding talking about something in too much detail (especially if that thing may hurt someone’s feelings), and being modest. It is often associated with the ‘English gentleman’ stereotype.

Understatement can exist as a phrase, verb, or a single noun.

Examples using a phrase

He might have a penny or two. (= he has quite a bit of money)

I know a thing or two. (= I know quite a bit about this)

I might of had a sip or two. (explaining being drunk)

Examples using a verb

‘It stings.’ (when suffering a great deal of pain)

‘I try.’ (modestly playing down how much work you do)

Well-known examples of a Single Noun

“The Pond”
(The Atlantic Ocean, as used by Brits and Americans – for example, ‘Our friends from across the pond seem to have a different opinion’)

“The Troubles”
(the decades of violence in Northern Ireland – for example, ‘This is the first time we’ve been back here since The Troubles began’)

“The Recent Unpleasantness”
(American method of referring to the American Civil War – for example, ‘There are some areas of the South who haven’t come to terms with the result of the recent unpleasantness’)

“It’s just a flesh wound”
(originally used in the movie ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ by a knight who had had his arms and legs cut off – now used by people joking about their own serious injuries)