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What Does The Term Understatement Mean? Explain Its Purpose

Referencing Styles : MLA | Pages : 1

Understatement is basically defined as the figure of speech being employed by the speakers or writers in terms of presenting a situation, which may seem less significant than what it really is.  An understatement can be used in both writing and speech. It is a major figure of speech, which plays a major role in terms of giving an ironic effect to a speech or written statement.

An understatement usually has an ironic effect, which acts as an equally intense response to a severe situation. Understatement is being different purposes and different result. It is imperative to note in this context that the fundamental aim behind using understatement is to present something important than it is really. There are three different types of understatement, which are being used for different purposes. Comedic is one of the major types of understatement, which plays a critical role in terms of adding humor to a serious situation. For instance, “a hurricane may happen at your vacation time, which can have a severe impact on your house”-the sentence is presenting a serious situation, which can be presented as “at least the vegetation will be affected by the hurricane” by using understatement.

Modest is another vital type of understatement, which is being used widely instead of boasting about something. For instance, “winning the first trophy” is being used as “not a big deal” by using understatement.   Polite is also a major type of understatement, which is being used in certain serious situation. In this situation, the speaker or writer may contradict the opinion of someone; still want to remain strict in his or her own point of view.  

This is one of the major literary devices, which can be referred as the provision of dragging the attention to the situation, which is majorly noticeable. Dry humor, wryness and sarcasm are some of the major forms of understatement. An understatement is basically a tool, being used widely in the contemporary times with the intension of decreasing the severity of a situation, at the time, when intense response requires from the listeners or the readers. In our daily conversation, we use multiple understatements, which are presented below:

  • Deserts are hot dry and sandy- this sentence is signifying the desserts in the world
  • She is not too much thin- presenting a person, who is suffering from obesity
  • It is little bit chill today- describing extremely cold temperature, which is lower than 5 degrees centigrade.
  • It is OK- This sentence is being said by the student after getting highest marks in the examination.
  • It rained a little bit high- presenting an area, which is more likely to be affected by flood.

Ironic Understatement is one of the major types of understatement, in which the response can have a firm impact on lowering the magnitude of the situation. For instance, “this is a terrible situation; you have to do a lot in terms of improving the grade”- can be presented as “the grade is not so good” by using understatement. This is the way, through which the severity of the situation can be mitigated.

There are varieties of ways, through which understatement can be used. It is being widely for the sake of adding harmony, modesty, comedy and politeness to the sentence. This is basically an ornamentation of language, which plays a critical role in terms of presenting a situation in an effective manner. An intense response generally incorporates response. There lies the significance of understatement, which is the key of using a simple response. The inclusion of such simple response plays a major role in decreasing the degree of intensity of a sentence. This simple response is considered as ironic understatement. At the same time, the understatement can also be used in a serious situation, in order to give it a comedic effect. Understatement can be used in order to remain modest while congratulating someone for the accomplishment of great job. Finally, understatement is being used widely for the sake of remaining polite even in the discomfort-able or difficult situation. For instance, in “To his coy mistress” Andrew Marvell had used understatement for the sake of presenting the reality of death. “The grave’s a fine and private place” is the sentence depicting death. Here, the author is trying to induce her lover in order to seize the day and enjoy the life to the fullest, which she hardly can. Therefore, the author is trying to remind the fact that there is no life in the grave. Death is the hardest truth of life, which has been used ironically by the author with the assistance of understatement. This is the way, through which the author has tried to lighten his statement.

Acting politely in any kind of social interaction is another vital purpose of using understatement. For instance, in “The Catcher in the Rye” of J.D. Salinger, the protagonist has made a mistake, which is to be avoided by the avoided by the users of understatement. Now, it is imperative to refer a statement of Holden in order to illustrate the discussion. Here Holden is saying:

“I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain”.

This statement absolutely contradicts understatement. Here, Holden is laying a lady, while placing the reason, for which he is trying to leave the school. After seeing the concern in the women, Holden has use understatement with the intension of staying away from the social interaction by remaining polite.

In the British humor, understatement is being used as a staple of comedy. “The Holy Grail” by Monty Python is one of the most popular example in which multiple usage of understatement can be seen. The examples of understatement in the scene are as follows:

  • “Tis but a scratch!” as well as “I’ve had worse!” had been used at the time, when the sever injury in the arm of the knight is being presented.
  • “Alright! We’ll call it a draw!” is another vital example of understatement, which has been used by the knight when he has lost all the limbs.

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