Saturday, February 03, 2007

CWWDUV*, Installment the second

I really am not one to commit to a regular series on my blog, but Anne's suggestion of one of my favorite figures of all time, litotes, compels me to write at least this additional installment.

Litotes is, first of all, one of those words you might hear as an undergraduate in, say, English, and have no idea how to spell. Lightatees? Or maybe come across it in a handbook on literary terms and have no idea how to pronounce: lie-totes?

But, beyond all that, it names one of my favorite rhetorical strategies: understatement. It's quite common in Anglo Saxon poetry, if I'm remembering correctly from my short time (three months) as a Medievalist. And although I think there may be some scholarly debate about the function of litotes for the original Anglo Saxon audience, I will nonetheless plunge into an area I haven't studied in years to tell you one of my favorite lines:
Þæt wæs grim cyning

Or, "that was a grim/cruel king." It seems as if a statement like this is made after cataloguing the said king's brutality, so that this line is a brief summary of all that. He was a grim king. Nuff said.

(Go ahead, John W, correct my oversimplification. I deserve it!)

At any rate, I wonder if I have always been attracted to litotes precisely because I am much more given to hyperbole in my own speech. One of my most frequent hyperbolic expressions, which C has taken as his project to rid me off, is this exclamation:
That's crazy!

It's true, I do say it in response to just about any unusual situation. The cat jumps on the counter top? He's crazy! The president wants to send more troops to Iraq? That's crazy!

Actually, now I'm thinking in some cases it may in fact become litotes.

*Cool Words with Diminished Use Value, that is. See the first installment.

1 comment:

anne said...

Hey -- that was no bad post!

And sorry to be slow in responding. It has been no ordinary week...