That rhetoric's not uncommon, George

GEORGE Orwell once composed a sentence which he hoped would help cure people of writing things like "It was not uncommon". "Repeat after me," George said, "the not unblack dog chased the not unbrown cow across the not ungreen field." The technique George hated is often used as a sort of euphemism, as Mark Cohen points out.
    Mark writes: "Some friends and I got into a language discussion (doesn't everyone), and I was saying that there is a name for phrases like "not guilty" (vs. innocent) or "not candid" (vs. lying) - where the negative phrasing is a bit less harsh than the almost-synonym.
    "I believe there is a word that names this kind of phrasing, but I have not been successful in finding that word. Can you help?"
    The term Mark seeks is litote, from the Greek for plain or simple, and means a kind of understatement which affirms something by stating it in the negative.
    Despite George's plea it is not unlikely that litotes, which have been in use at least since Beowulf, will be around for a while longer.

Word for Word articles
BrisMail Home