Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
As with many figures of speech, the correct interpretation of litotes depends very much on the cultural setting.
- He was not unfamiliar with the works of Dickens.
- '... no ordinary city.' Acts 21:39 (NIV)
- The food wasn't bad.
A litotes essentially says "not X but not necessarily Y".
In colloquial speech, some people may say 'not NOT good' to mean 'not bad' ('not necessarily bad or good'). Esperanto, for example, possibly uses this construction for litotes: malmalbona, literally 'notnotbad'.
The meaning of some litotes varies from language to language. For example, the French phrase "il ne faut pas qu'il aille" translates literally as "it is not necessary that he go", suggesting that he can go or stay as he pleases. In reality, however, it means "he must not go".
See also: double negative
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