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    Big Mayors Don't Hug

    The reverse exaggeration called a litotes can make you sound like a no-nonsense New Yorker. 

    The people in this city didn’t elect Mike Bloomberg three times to give him a hug.
    Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor of New York, quoted in the New York Times


    Major Bloomberg isn’t exactly the teary, I-feel-your-pain type. Some people have criticized Bloomberg for that, wishing he’d be more like that big demonstrative guy over in New Jersey. Howard Wolfson responds with a nice litotes.


    Figure of Speech: litotes (lie-TOE-tees), the “not exactly” figure. From the Greek litos, meaning “plain” or “meager.” (Hardly an over-the-top name, what?) You’ll find more on this figure on page 155 of Word Hero.


    This offspring of understatement denies an exaggeration. You might call it an ironic form of hyperbole; by denying an exaggeration, the litotes tends to make an exaggeration of its own. An overstated understatement, if you will. What makes the figure so remarkable is its paradoxical ability to turn up the volume by turning it down.


    The greatest litotes in history was an often-misquoted cable sent by Mark Twain after newspapers erroneously reported his death. 


    Twain: The report of my death was an exaggeration.


    You’ll find other examples of litotes here, here, here, and here.


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