Verbal Irony

Hyperbole

Understatement

Litotes

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device in which statements are exaggerated. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally. ƒ When analyzing the author s purpose for using hyperbole you must discuss what sort of strong feelings or reactions he/she is trying to get out of the audience. And further, why is she/he doing it? How is it helping them prove their point?
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The narrator of Martin Amis's novel Money is John Self, a larger-than-life filmmaker whose gargantuan appetites are matched by the author's hyperbolic prose style. In LA, you can t do anything unless you drive. Now I can t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop you ashes or pick your nose, then it's an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered police drawing a bead on your rug. -from Money (1984) by Martin Amis

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Understatement is a staple of humor in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humor. For example, in Monty Python s The Meaning of Life, a suburban dinner party is invaded by Death, who wears a long black cloak and carries a scythe. He is the Grim Reaper; the party is over; the guests must all go with him. "Well," says one party guest, "that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?" In another scene, an Army officer has just lost his leg. When asked how he feels, he looks down at his bloody stump and responds, "Stings a bit. So is the author s purpose for using understatement always to achieve humor?.....No. Not Always. Sometimes it s used to diminish the seriousness of a situation. Consider the following:
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.

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Litotes are a specific form of understatement in which a certain statement is expressed by denying its opposite. For example, rather than merely saying that something is attractive (or even very attractive), one might say it is "not unattractive". Thereby implying that it is attractive by denying that it is unattractive For Example: - We are not amused. - Running a marathon in under two hours is no small accomplishment. - Her singing is not bad. - The situation we have on our hands is not ideal. In order to understand the author s purpose for using litotes, as with all other rhetorical strategies, you must consider the context. As with the more general form of understatement, litotes may be used to downplay an accomplishment, to be modest, maintain polite civility, to avoid panic (to name a few).

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