Meiosis (figure of speech)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In rhetoric, meiosis is a euphemistic figure of speech that intentionally understates something or implies that it is lesser in significance or size than it really is. Meiosis is the opposite of auxesis, and also sometimes used as a synonym for litotes The term is derived from the Greek mei-o-o (“to make smaller”, "to diminish").


  • "The Troubles" as a name for decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
  • A lawyer defending a schoolboy who has set fire to his school might call the act of arson a "prank", in this case using meiosis in an attempt to diminish the significance of the act (actually, grand arson) to the level of a harmless joke or minor act of vandalism.
  • "The Recent Unpleasantness," used in the southern United States as an idiom to refer to the American Civil War and its aftermath

See also

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