Litotes (li-to’-tees): Deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying its opposite. The Ad Herennium author suggests litotes as a means of expressing modesty (downplaying one’s accomplishments) in order to gain the audience’s favor (establishing ethos).

I don’t deserve your adulation—what I did isn’t really worthy of praise, or “kudos” as the Grecians say. The baby chick had been separated from its mother by the tornado that blew across our farm. It turned my tractor upside down, tore the roof off of my house and carried the baby chick up into the branches of what was left of our heirloom oak tree. The chick was making a constant cheeping sound. It was driving me crazy. I had to get the chick out of the tree. I tried throwing a tennis ball at him, but he cheeped louder every time I threw it at him. I tried a water hose, but when the water stream hit him, he just dug in his chicken claws and cheeped even louder. As I headed inside to get my shotgun, I got an idea. I could reverse my vacuum cleaner so it would blow instead of suck. I could load it with corn and spray it at at the chick! Surely, he would gobble it up and come down from the tree for more. It didn’t work. When the corn hit him, he cheeped even louder. So, I got my shotgun, loaded it and was ready to fire when my lost dog came running across the yard. He jumped up on me and the gun went off. I was prepared to see a mutilated chick hanging from the branch. Then I heard cheeping about 10 feet away on the ground. It was the unharmed chick. The dog had made me miss the chick, but I had hit the branch it was perching on and blown it off the tree.

Soon that chick will be big enough to eat. Thanks to my dog, we’ll have a nice chicken dinner.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (

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