Get your Litotes here…they aren’t half bad!

This thing has been nagging me for a few months now. There is this “grammatical” construct, where you use the negative of the opposite of something to mean that thing.

Fogo de Chao’s food wasn’t bad (to say that the food was good)

I’m not ungrateful (to say that I am grateful)

That was no small achievement (to say that it was a great achievement)

Turns out that it isn’t grammatical, but rhetorical, at least according to Wikipedia.

How did I ever come across this, you wonder? Well, I subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word-of-the-Day email newsletter, and it was one of the WotD’s, probably back in the early 00’s. I read it, said to myself, “Self…what a not unsatisfying word to describe constructs that you use all the time!” And then I promptly forgot the word, hence the nagging feeling I mentioned.

Finally, I got fed up wondering to myself what the word was, and to just dig as much as I could through the online reference materials (read: Wikipedia and Google), and try and find and remember what the stupid word is!

I started with searching for “double-negative” (thanks to Scott, who I went to first with my search for the name of this construct…being all endowed with an English degree and what not). That led me to this Wikipedia article, which had, near the bottom, a section on “double-negative to mean a positive”. Eureka! There it was plain as day.

Now, ladies and gentlemen of the Blogosphere, now you can rest easy knowing that someone out there, at some point, thought it not so unhelpful to name this peculiar figure of speech!

By the way, it’s pronounced “LIE-toh-tez”, not “LIE-TOTES” as I originally thought; it’s not the plural of Litote. Silly me; I should have brushed up on my Greek!


1 Response to “Get your Litotes here…they aren’t half bad!”

  1. 1 descartes Trackback on March 10, 2015 at 0:44 am

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