Last Updated: March 12, 2024


There are some instances when you would intentionally belittle yourself or your situation maybe because you do not want to draw attention. You might have also read in various literature that an understatement is used when there is a situation to be highlighted, explained, or delivered especially in spicing up a dramatic scene. You may also see obituary writings.

Such statements are making use of meiosis.

What is Meiosis?

Meiosis in science is defined as a type of cell division, but in grammar, it is a witty understatement that intentionally belittles or dismisses something or somebody. Meiosis also gives the impression that something is less important than it is or it should be. You may also see book outline examples

One way of using meiosis is to use words that diminish. Examples of diminish words are ‘just’, ‘only’, and ‘simply’. By inserting these modifiers, you make yourself, a situation, or an event less important than it actually is. Spotting these words is one way of identifying that a statement is making use of meiosis. You may also campaign speech examples.

Usage of Meiosis

  • Meiosis an intentional understatement. You use meiosis when you intentionally understate someone or the condition of a person or an event.
  • Meiosis is used to belittle a person or a situation.
  • Meiosis is also the opposite of Auxesis, which is another term for hyperbole. It’s used for exaggeration.
  • To give an ironic effect, meiosis would often make use of litotes as synonyms.

Examples of Meiosis

Examples of Meiosis in Literature

  1. “For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”
    – 1 Corinthians 15:9–10 (Paul belittles understates himself to give emphasis to God’s power)
  2. “It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.” – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  3. “I am a very foolish fond old man,
    Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less;
    And, to deal plainly,
    I fear I am not in my perfect mind…” – King Lear by William Shakespeare
  4. “…A little month, or ere those shoes were old
    With which she followed my poor father’s body…
    O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
    Would have mourned longer…
    O, most wicked speed, to post
    With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
    It is not nor it cannot come to good:
    But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.” – Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  5. “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.” – Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
  6. King Arthur: “The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water.”
    Peasant: “Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Power derives from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”
    King Arthur: “Be quiet!”
    Peasant: “You can’t expect to wield supreme power because some watery tart threw a sword at you.”
    King Arthur: “Shut up!”
    Peasant: “If I went around saying I was an emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me…”
    – Monty Python and the Holy Grail by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
  7. “Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch.” – Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  8. An amputated leg is referred to as a “flesh wound” – Monty Python
  9. “Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
    ‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
    The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
    And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.” – The Spider and The Fly by Mary Howitt
  10. MERCUTIO: I am hurt.
    A plague o’ both your houses! I am sped.
    Is he gone and hath nothing?
    BENVOLIO: What, art thou hurt?
    MERCUTIO: Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, ’tis enough.
    Where is my page?—Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.
    – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  11. “For the wildest yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not—and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events.”– The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
  12. ‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’
    The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
    ‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’ – Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
  13. “No, everybody’s fine at home,” I said. “It’s me. I have to have this operation.”
    “Oh! I’m so sorry,” she said. She really was, too. I was right away sorry I’d said it, but it was too late.
    “It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor in the brain.”
    “Oh, no!” She put her hand up to her mouth and all.
    “Oh, I’ll be all right and everything! It’s right near the outside. And it’s a very tiny one. They can take it out in about two minutes.”
    Then I started reading this timetable I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours.
    – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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