Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 23rd, 2016
Episode 533 of 900 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 23, 2016 is: litotes \LYE-tuh-teez\ noun : understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary Examples: "Vacationing in the Caribbean wasn't a total drag," said Sheila with her characteristic flair for litotes. "Analysts and experts reached for metaphors, similes, allusions, litotes and anything else lying about to express their wonderment." — Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times, 31 Oct. 2003 Did you know? Even if you've never heard the word litotes, chances are you've encountered this figure of speech. If you've ever approved of a job well done by exclaiming "Not bad!" or told someone that you are "not unhappy" when you are ecstatic, you've even used it yourself. In fact, you might say that it would be "no mean feat" to avoid this common feature of our language! And litotes isn't only common; it's also simple—etymologically speaking, that is. Litotes evolved from a Greek word meaning "simple," and perhaps ultimately from another Greek word meaning "linen cloth."