The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the British Empire and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page.(January 2013)
Understatement is a form of speech or disclosure which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected. This is not to be confused with euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression.
Understatement is a staple of humour in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humour. For example, in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, a suburban dinner party is invaded by Death, who wears a long black cloak and carries a scythe. "Well," says one party guest, "that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?" In another scene, an Army officer has just lost his leg. When asked how he feels, he looks down at his bloody stump and responds, "Stings a bit."
When the Japanese Emperor informed the Japanese people that Japan would surrender at the end of the second world war, he explained that
"the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage"
In April 1951, 650 British fighting men - soldiers and officers from the 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment - were deployed on the most important crossing on the Imjin River to block the traditional invasion route to Seoul. The Chinese had sent an entire division - 10,000 men - to smash the isolated Glosters aside in a major offensive to take the whole Korean peninsula, and the small force was gradually surrounded and overwhelmed. After two days' fighting, an American, Major General Robert H Soule, asked the British brigadier, Thomas Brodie: "How are the Glosters doing?" The brigadier, schooled in Britain and thus British humour, replied: "A bit sticky, things are pretty sticky down there." To American ears, this did not sound too desperate, and so he ordered them to stand fast. Only 40 Glosters managed to escape.
During the Kuala-Lumpur-to-Perth leg of British Airways Flight 9 on 24 June 1982, volcanic ash caused all four engines of the Boeing 747 aircraft to fail. Although pressed for time as the aircraft rapidly lost altitude, Captain Eric Moody still managed to make an announcement to the passengers. Comment: "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."