Meiosis (figure of speech)

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In rhetoric, meiosis is a euphemistic figure of speech that intentionally understates something or implies that it is lesser in significance or size than it really is. Meiosis is the opposite of auxesis, and is often compared to litotes.[1][2][3] The term is derived from the Greek μειόω ("to make smaller", "to diminish"). The satirical technique diminution often involves meiosis.[4]


Historical examples

Other examples

  • "The Pond", for the Atlantic Ocean ("across the pond"). Similarly, "The Ditch" for the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.
  • "The outback"; under its original etymology in the late 19th century, this was a meiosis comparison between the vast empty regions of central Australia and the backyard of a house; but its usage today is so common and so far distanced from its etymology that the meiosis effect has been lost.[5]
  • "Intolerable meiosis!" comments a character in William Golding's Fire Down Below as their ship encounters an iceberg, responding to another character's comment, "We are privileged. How many people have seen anything like this?"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encarta World English Dictionary (1999)
  2. ^ The Times English Dictionary (2000)
  3. ^ OED 1st edition
  4. ^ Covici, Jr., Pascal (24 October 2017). Sloane, David E. E. (ed.). "From the Old Southwest". Mark Twain's Humor: Critical Essays. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  5. ^ "7 Bonzer Aussie Words". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 20 November 2021.


  • Burton, Gideon O. "Meiosis". Silva Rhetoricae. Archived from the original on 2006-12-29. Retrieved 2006-12-24.