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What is a Litote?

A litote is a nice, almost secretive understatement saying something negative or unpleasant without any negative/unpleasant words used in the statement.

You: Writing this paper is not the most enjoyable way to spend a Friday night.

 

We’re gonna give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you are a generally nice person. If we’re right and that is the case, you probably use litotes all the time. Here’s an example: Your friend tries a new cookie recipe for the first time, and instead of tasting like delicious morsels they taste more like something you might find in a dumpster. So when your friend ask you how the cookies taste, to soften the blow, you might use a double negative and say something like, “They didn’t not taste good.” And boom you’ve just used a litote. Think of this literary device as a cushiony pillow. A litote is a nice, almost secretive understatement saying something negative or unpleasant without any negative/unpleasant words used in the statement. Litotes can be ironic and not all litotes are double negatives. Here’s another one you probably use all the time: “She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.” This is a litote because there are no “bad” words in the phrase, like “stupid” or “dumb.” The fact that the person in question is unintelligent is only implied, never stated outright. 

 

Now that you’ve wrapped your mind around the kindness of litotes, try to pick out the ones here:

 

Fire and Ice

BY ROBERT FROST

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 it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

All Star (Excerpt)

BY SMASH MOUTH

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me

I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed

She was lookin' kinda dumb with her finger

And her thumb in the shape of an L on her forehead

Well the years start coming, and they don't stop coming

Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running

Didn't make sense not to live for fun

Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do, so much to see

So what's wrong with taking the backstreets?

You'll never know if you don't go

You'll never shine if you don't glow

Hey now, you're an all star get your game on, go play

Hey now, you're a rockstar get the show on, get paid

And all that glitters is gold

Only shooting stars break the mold

It's a cool place and they say it gets colder

You're bundled up now wait till you get older

But the meteor men beg to differ

Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

The ice we skate is getting pretty thin

The water's getting warm so you might as well swim

My world's on fire, how about your's?

That's the way I like it and I'll never get bored

Hey now, you're an all star get your game on, go play

Hey now, you're a rockstar get the show on, get paid

All that glitters is gold

Only shooting stars break the mold

 
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