Figures of speech are literary devices which are used to convey ideas that go beyond their literal meaning.
In English, there are more than 200 different types of figures of speech. Understatement is one of them.
Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole. It is a figure of speech used to minimise or diminish something’s importance. In other words, something is purposefully projected as being less significant. The author emphasises the idea he wants to convey to the reader by doing this. Through understatement, other figures of speech like irony and sarcasm are highlighted.
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- The terrorist attacks in the city spoiled the weekend plans of many a citizen. (The terrorist attacks are projected as a minor impediment which only ruined the weekend plans of the citizens. By doing so, the writer intends to highlight the irony.)
- Weighing around a quintal, he is not exactly the thinnest person in the world. (A person who weighs a quintal will be a morbidly obese person let alone the thinnest person in the world. The writer wishes to capture the attention of the reader by understating the person‘s obesity.)
Some famous examples of Understatement are as follows:
“I have to have this operation. It isn‘t very serious. I have this tiny little tumour on the brain.”
—J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
“I‘ve got a nice place here,” he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly. Turning me around by one arm, he
moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of
deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby