*also called meiosis

What is understatement?

Understatement is using words to deliberately make something sound smaller, slower, less significant (less important) etc. than it really is.

Using understatement

Understatement can be used as a way of joking, showing a lack of enthusiasm, avoiding talking about something in too much detail (especially if that thing may hurt someone’s feelings), and being modest. It is often associated with the ‘English gentleman’ stereotype.

Understatement can exist as a phrase, verb, or a single noun.


  1. Using a phrase
Understatement phraseMeaning
He might have a penny or twoHe has a lot of money
I know a thing or twoI know a lot about this
I might of had a sip or twoI have been drinking quite a bit, and am probably drunk

2. Using a verb

Understatement phraseMeaning
It stingsIt really hurts
I tryI know I do a lot of work, but am being modest

3. Well-known examples

Understatement phraseMeaning
The PondThe Atlantic Ocean

*As used by Brits and Americans when describing travel or friendship between the two – ‘our friends across the pond’; ‘he now lives across the pond’.
The TroublesThe decades of violence in Northern Ireland
The Recent UnpleasantnessThe American Civil War
It’s just a flesh woundA truly awful injury

*This was a joke in Monty Python and The Holy Grail involving a knight who had all his arms and legs cut off in a fight)