meiosis meiosis
mei-o'-sis from Gk. mei-o-o “to make smaller”
extenuatio, detractio, diminutio
the disabler, belittling

Reference to something with a name disproportionately lesser than its nature (a kind of litotes).
This term is equivalent to tapinosis.

Said of an amputated leg.: "It's just a flesh wound"
—Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Related Figures
  • irony
    Meiosis, as a kind of understatement, names one of the two principle means of communicating through irony (the other being overstatement — see hyperbole, below).
  • litotes
    Like meiosis, litotes is also a kind of deliberate understatement. However, this term more often names understatement done by denying something contrary to what one means.
  • tapinosis
    Like meiosis, tapinosis involves calling something by a name that diminishes its importance, or gives an understatement of its qualities.
  • auxesis The exact opposite of meiosis (overstates rather than understates for ironic effect).
  • hyperbole The general term for exaggeration, including auxesis. Not limited to ironic uses.
  • charientismus This figure shares with meiosis a similar strategy — to mollify or lighten (though not ironically). Charientismus usually involves reducing the effect of a threat through teasing or mockery.
Related Topics of Invention
  • Degree
    Meiosis does not work as a figure unless one senses the degree of difference between the label and the thing it labels. It is thus related to this kind of comparative strategy.
See Also
Sources: Cicero De Or. 3.53.202 ("extenuatio"); Quintilian 8.3.50; Aquil. 46 ("elleipsis" [=meiosis], "detractio"); Melanch. ER D4v ("meiosis" "tapinosis" "diminutio"); Sherry (1550) 61 ("miosis," "diminutio"); Peacham (1577) N4v; Putt. (1589) 195, 227 ("meiosis," "the disabler")

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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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