- 1: to represent as less than is the case <understate taxable income>
- 2: to state or present with restraint especially for effect
Understatement is a form of speech which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected. This is not to be confused with euphemism where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression.
Understatement is a staple of humour in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humour. 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." Consider also that after trekking more than 7000 miles through the African wilderness, previously almost completely unexplored by white Europeans, Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone, the only other white European in central Africa at that time. Stanley is credited with greeting Livingstone with the phrase "Dr Livingstone, I presume?".