Litotes is a two-component structure in which two negations are joined to give a positive evaluation. Thus "not unkindly" actually means "kindly", though the positive effect is weakened and some lack of the speaker's confidence in his statement is implied. The first component of a litotes is always the negative particle "not", while the second, always negative in semantics, varies in form from a negatively affixed word (as above) to a negative phrase.
Litotes is especially expressive when the semantic centre of the whole o structure is stylistically or/and emotionally coloured, as in the case of the following occasional creations: "Her face was not unhand-some" (A.H.) or "Her face was not unpretty". (K.K.)
The function of litotes has much in common with that of understatement - both weaken the effect of the utterance. The uniqueness of litotes lies in its specific "double negative" structure and in its weakening only the positive evaluation.
Regularly Used Examples Of litotes
--He's not the ugliest fellow around!
--He was not unfamiliar with the works of Dickens.
--You are not wrong.
--Einstein is not a bad mathematician.
--It won't be easy to find crocodiles in the dark.
--He is not unlike his dad.
--That's no small accomplishment.
--He is not the kindest person I've met.
--He is not unaware of what you said behind his back.
--This is no minor matter.
--The weather is not unpleasant at all.
--The city is not unclean.
--You're not doing badly.
--She's not a bad writer at all.
Examples Of Litotes In Poems
1. "This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comic poetry." Samuel Johnson on "Modern" Fiction
2. "It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain" 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger
3. "Hitting that telephone pole certainly didn't do your car any good."
4. "If you can tell the fair one's mind, it will be no small proof of your art, for I dare say it is more than she herself can do." Alexander Pope
5. "He who examines his own self will not long remain ignorant of his failings."
6. "A figure lean or corpulent, tall or short, though deviating from beauty, may still have a certain union of the various parts, which may contribute to make them on the whole not unpleasing." Sir Joshua Reynolds
Examples Of Litotes In Prose
1. "Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever" Frederick Douglass
2. 'Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged." Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel 'The Scarlet Letter'
3. "Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others" Frederick Douglass
But note that, as George Orwell points out in "Politics and the English Language," the "not un-" construction (e.g., "not unwilling") should not be used indiscriminately. Rather, find an opposite quality which as a word is something other than the quality itself with an "un" attached. For instance, instead of, "We were not unvictorious," you could write, "We were not defeated," or "We did not fail to win," or something similar.
V. A. Kukharenko offers to our attention the following litotes:
1. “To be a good actress, she must always work for the truth in what she’s playing,” the man said in a voice not empty of self-love. (N.M.)
2. It was not unnatural if Gilbert felt a certain embarrassment. (E. W.)
3. The idea was not totally erroneous. The thought did not displease me. (I.M.)
4. I was quiet, but not uncommunicative; reserved, but not reclusive; energetic at times, but seldom enthusiastic. (Jn.B.)
5. He had all the confidence in the world, and not without reason. (J.O’H.)
6. Kirsten said not without dignity: “Too much talking is unwise.” (Ch.)
7. “No, I’ve had a profession and then a firm to cherish,” said Ravenstreet, not without bitterness. (P.)