Monday , June 27 2022
Figure of Speech

Examples Of Litotes: In Poems and Prose

Examples Of Litotes: Rarely heard, but extensively used – that is litotes among the regular speakers of English language. Popularly a figure of speech, the word ‘litotes’ originated from the Greek word ‘litos’ which means simple. Litotes is defined as ‘an ironical understatement in which affirmative is expressed by the negation of the opposite’. In this figure of speech, the usages are intentional, ironical and provide emphasis to the words. This is mainly done through double negatives. To put it in simple terms, in litotes, instead of saying that something is attractive, you say that it is not unattractive. In literary circles, plenty of poets as well as writers have used this concept to convey strange and vivid images. It changes the thought process and thereby beautifies and adorns the literary works. Most of the literary works describe litotes in such a way that the words described are not false, but do not come near a complete description of the action in question. Rather, they are presented in a passive tone and demand more careful attention from the reader. Even figurative language use litotes to convey messages in a clear and impressive manner.

Examples Of Litotes

Regularly Used Examples Of litotes 

Following are some of the commonly used litotes:

  • They aren’t the happiest couple around.
  • He’s not the ugliest fellow around!
  • She’s not the brightest girl in the class.
  • The food is not bad.
  • It is no ordinary city.
  • That sword was not useless to the warrior now.
  • He was not unfamiliar with the works of Dickens.
  • She is not as young as she was.
  • You are not wrong.
  • Einstein is not a bad mathematician.
  • Heat waves are not rare in the summer.
  • It won’t be easy to find crocodiles in the dark.
  • He is not unlike his dad.
  • That’s no small accomplishment.
  • He is not the kindest person I’ve met.
  • That is no ordinary boy.
  • He is not unaware of what you said behind his back.
  • This is no minor matter.
  • The weather is not unpleasant at all.
  • She’s no doll.
  • That was no small issue.
  • The city is not unclean.
  • Rap videos with dancers in them are not uncommon
  • Running a marathon in under two hours is no small accomplishment.
  • She’s no idiot.
  • That’s not a meager sum.
  • You’re not doing badly.
  • That’s no mean feat.
  • She’s not a bad writer at all.

In Poems

  • In the poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’ by Mary Howitt, “I’m really glad that you have come to visit,” says the spider to the fly. The spider is not just glad to get a visitor, but also is excited to get his next meal.
  • In the poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell, ‘The grave’s a fine a private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.’
  • Poets like Johnson make use of litotes to make a modest assertion in lines like, ‘This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance. . . .’
  • In the lines from the poem ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger, ‘It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain’, you can see litotes.
  • In the following lines from the poem ‘Fire and Ice’ by Robert Frost, you can see litotes. ‘Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if I had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.’
  • Litotes intensifies the emotion intended by the writer and moderately conveys the feelings as in these lines ‘Hitting that telephone pole certainly didn’t do your car any good.
  • Alexander Pope in his lines says , ‘ If you can tell the fair one’s mind, it will be no small proof of your art, for I dare say it is more than she herself can do.
  • He who examines his own self will not long remain ignorant of his failings.
  • Overall the flavors of the mushrooms, herbs, and spices combine to make the dish not at all disagreeable to the palate.
  • Sir Joshua Reynolds says, ‘A figure lean or corpulent, tall or short, though deviating from beauty, may still have a certain union of the various parts, which may contribute to make them on the whole not unpleasing’.

In Prose

  • “Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever” Frederick Douglass gives an instance of Litotes in these lines as double negative play down the fact that freedom is being materialized.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ says, ‘Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged.” These lines are examples of litotes as double negative stresses that Dimmesdale most likely belong to a group of men who are pious and moral.
  • In the lines, ‘Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others’, Frederick Douglass uses litotes to stress that even slaves sought dominance among other slaves.

Usually, litotes occurs in a language when the speaker does not make an affirmation, rather denies the opposite. With regard to literature, the relationship between Litotes and English language is so old that its instances can be found even in the literary works of the Anglo Saxon period. Litotes usage appeals specifically to North Europeans and is well-liked among English, French and Russians. It makes the speech more effective by beautifying and emphasizing it in rhetoric. Though widely used in conversational language, its usage depends on intonation and emphasis as in the case of phrase “not bad”. This can be said in such a way which means everything from ‘mediocre’ to ‘excellent’.

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