Litotes (LIE-tuh-teez) [trope] – Emphasis through understatement usually by using a double negative (but not always).
The litotes, as a figure of speech, is not unpersuasive. (See what I did there.) OK, so that’s a little contrived, but litotes can create a sense of familiarity and increase your ethos if used correctly. Probably the most common example:
That writer’s not bad. [Meaning: That writer is good.]
See. You were using litotes all this time and you didn’t know it. You’re a natural rhetor. Politicians, too, use litotes all the time, since it can make it seem like you’re saying something when you’re not (or vice versa):
My opponent is not unfamiliar with special interests and lobbying.
Sen. Feinstein’s legislation is not unlike a dictator’s decree.
I’m glad to be here in Hoopeston, IL. This is no ordinary city.
As you can see with the final example, a double negative isn’t required to create litotes, but you have to be a tad clever.
One caution when using this figure: Don’t write like I did in the second paragraph. That is, don’t contrive the situation:
President Obama’s executive order is not untotalitarian.
That just doesn’t work, and it makes you seem unserious. Happy serious persuading!
[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]