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Understatement is called understatement. The understatement is a rhetorical stylistic which is used in all literary genres as well as in the diminution. In rhetoric the figure often appears together with the litotes, an affirmation by double negation, or uses the diminutive (reduction form). The counterpart is the hyperbola (exaggeration).

The term comes from English and consists of under (under) and statement (statement, explanation, statement). Consequently, this is certainly a question of a sub-statement, that is, a statement which says less than reality demands. In this case, the understatement is a stylistic figure (1), but it can also stand for a form of life management (2). Let’s look at some examples.

(1) At the party appears the allegorical death: the Sensenmann, to kill all.
Partygast: Well, that spoiled the evening, did not it?
Source: From the film The meaning of life of Monty Python
The above example stems from the film The Meaning of the Life of the English comedy group Monty Python. The guest understates the prospect of his imminent death by spoiling the evening. It is a typical form of linguistic understatement, and still a fine example of typical English humor – dry and biting (see Nonsens).

(1) A woman wins 5 million euros and says in an interview.
Woman: That’s a pretty little penny.
The marked example sentence is a form of understatement, which is an understatement which denies the amount of profit and thus weakens it. However, the small-scale version of Summum has an ironic undertone. It is thus said the opposite of what is actually meant. Thus understatement, irony and litotes are combined.

(2) A millionaire drives an old bicycle to work.
This scenario illustrates another form of understatement: a way of life management. In doing so, certain attributes and status symbols are dispensed with. This can, on the one hand, show that a person himself does not take himself too seriously and, on the other hand, does not want to push his own social rank into the absolute foreground. This can lead to the person being underrated.

Note: As a stylistic device, the understatement describes any form of understatement and is often used in combination with litotes. Above all, in English, the term is a more relaxed attitude than would be appropriate in a dramatic situation. As a life form, the term means the resetting of statistic symbols – the opposite would be the conscious statement.

Difference: Understatement and Underacting
The term also plays a role in the art of acting. The acting understatement is also called underacting or underplaying (German equivalent: underplaying).

At the same time, the actor tries to show himself with restraint and use non-verbal expressions such as gestures, gestures, facial expressions or the expression only minimally. In most cases an attempt is made to force the viewer to draw attention and thus to strengthen the attention and listening.

Underacting is usually used to characterize characters, or individual and barely visible details, because the attention of the audience is increased. The counterpart is the overacting, which is characterized by a strong use of nonverbal expressive means.


The above example shows a brief scene from the movie Die Hard Dracula from the year 1998. This film can not convince qualitatively but provides a simple parade example for the understatement in the film. The protagonist is characterized by a reserved, subtle facial expression – not to be confused with the whole thing by the non-play.

Short overview: The most important overview
Understatement is basically any form of understatement. This can be a rhetorical stylistic device, an actorial means or a certain way of life management. The areas may also coincide.
As a stylistic device, it is either a little understated, with very frequent diminutive or litotes being combined, or very dramatic. The stylistic counterpart is the hyperbole.
This way can also be transferred to a lifestyle. This is not about showing your own status symbols unnecessarily. What is essential here is that it is not a question of having a simple lifestyle, but of concealing one’s own wealth.
In the play there is likewise the understatement. However, this is usually referred to as underacting, rare underplaying. It means the game with reserved non-verbal means. The counterpart is the overacting.
Effect: In literature and film, the understating can even have a reinforcing effect. This is due to the fact that the respective element comes into the foreground, which is due to the increased attention of the spectator or the return of other things.

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