The term “understatement” is a significant figure-of-speech which can be used in literature in various ways. Mostly, it’s used to create irony or show different outcomes and purposes especially when you want something to look smaller, less important or good, or severe than it actually is. The term can be used both in speech and writing.
One of the most used synonyms of understatement is litotes which conveys an idea in an opposite construction. For instance, instead of saying, “The summer was hot”, the author or writer may use litotes to say, “There was not much heat this summer”. Other synonyms may include meiosis and euphemism. The commonly used antonym is yperbole’ which is actually the opposite of understatement. It’s frequently used by the speakers, authors or writers to deliberate exaggeration.
Types of Understatement
- Modesty – The author or speaker may choose to use this kind of an understatement when they don’t want to boast or brag about something serious. For example, after winning a lottery or your first trophy, the media may ask you what you feel or how it really was. Your answer becomes “It was not a big deal” when it was actually a very big deal.
- Comedic – Most authors use comedic understatements when they want to add or express humor to an otherwise solemn circumstance. A good example would be when there is a huge storm at your precious home and there is a high chance that the house will get severely damaged. Instead of saying otherwise you utter, “Wow! At least the plants and trees will get enough water”
- Polite – This is used in many different circumstances when the speaker, writer or author wants to make a disagreement with another person’s opinion but doesn’t want to be rude about it. Instead, he/she wants to remain as polite as possible during the difference of opinion. For instance, when you’re asked to choose a very short person among a group of boys and you say, “That one is not tall”. Or when you’re discussing politics and your friend seems to be on the opposite side, you simply say, think we have a slight difference in our opinions.’
The Significance of Understatement in Literature
The word “Understatement” is very common in almost all languages and since the historic times, it has been found in early pieces of literature which have been found to span many different cultures. For example, the word is seen in the Ancient Greek literature by a legendary author, Homer, and the very old English Books such as Beowulf. Most authors use this term for many reasons such as expressing humor and politeness. Others use the term to minimize the mining of a statement while emphasizing the other.