Figure Name meiosis
Source Silva Rhetoricae (; Cicero De Or. 3.53.202 ("extenuatio"); Quintilian 8.3.50; Aquil. 46 ("elleipsis" [=meiosis], "detractio"); Melanch. ER D4v ("meiosis" "tapinosis" "diminutio"); Sherry (1550) 61 ("miosis," "diminutio"); Peacham (1577) N4v; Putt. (1589) 195, 227 ("meiosis," "the disabler") ; JG Smith (1665)("meiosis"); Peacham 1593; Bullinger (1898) ("meiosis: or, a be-litteling"); Johnson (1903) ("miosis"); Norwood (1742) ("meiosis"); Vickers (1989) ("meiosis")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms apeinosis, antenantiosis, humiliatio, abbaser, a demeaning, tapinosis, be-littling, miosis
Etymology from Gk. mei-o-o “to make smaller”
Type Trope
Linguistic Domain Semantic

Rhetfig: The diminishment of something through the use of a term or name of lesser proportion with the intention of increasing the value of another entity. For example: Compared to the Amazon river, the Mississippi is a Stream; or calling a wound "a scratch" increases the ethos of the wounded.

1. Reference to something with a name disproportionately lesser than its nature (a kind of litotes). (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Extenuation, or diminution: It is when lesse is spoken, yet more is understood, or when for extenuation sake we use a more light and easie term then the matter requires, &c. see in Hyperbole.; Meiosis, diminutio, extenuatio, Diminution, or lessening. It is when lesse is spoken, yet more is understood; or when for extenuation sake we use a lighter and more easie word or terme then the matter requires; or when we put a lesse word for a greater. (JG Smith)

3. Meiosis contrary to Auxesis when a lesse word is put for a greater, to make the thing appeare lesse then it is, or verie litle, as to call a learned Doctor a prettie scholler, a great wound a scratch, a flat fall a foile, a raging railer a testie fellow: as Auxesis doth magnifie and lift up, so doth this diminish and pul downe: the other of small thnges, maketh great matters, so this of great matters maketh but trifles.

The use hereof serveth to sundry effectes, to excuse by extenuation, also to remove despaire, and plant hope, as doth the Phisition in comforting his despairing patient, by calling his disease a matter of no danger, no cause of any feare, an obstruction easily remedied, an inflamation quickly quenched, whereby the Phisition doth much relieve and lighten the heavie spirits of his feeble Patient, by decreasing the causes and diminishing the danger. (Peacham)

4. By this figure one thing is diminished in order to increase another thing... In Meiosis there is an omission therefore, not of words, but of sense. One thing is lowered in order to magnify and intensify something else by way of contrast. I is used for the purpose of emphasis; to call our attention, not to the smallness of the thing thus lessened, but to the importance of that which is put in contrast with it. (Bullinger, 166)

5. Mio'sis.—This is a figure of rhetoric by which something is belittled or made to appear mean or insignificant. (Johnson, 155)

6. Meiosis, a Figure of diminution, when we use a less word or expression, than the matter requires. (Norwood, 27)

7. Meiosis (or extenuatio), a form of 'diminishing' a topic by belittling it. (Vickers 496)


1. Said of the Mississippi River: "a stream"

Said of an amputated leg.: "It's just a flesh wound"
—Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Thus a great wound is called a scratch; a flat fall, a foile, and a raging railer, a testy fellow, &c. (JG Smith)

4. "And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." -Gen. 18:27 Here Abraham humbles himself; and, alluding to the creation of man out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), he implies much more than he expresses. In calling himself "dust and ashes," he contrasts himself with the high and holy God whom he is addressing, and takes the place of a man most vile and a creature most abject. So Jehovah uses the same figure in 1 Kings 16:2. (Bullinger, 166)

5. Perhaps the most striking example of it is furnished by Beranger's King of Yvetot:

There was a king of Yvetot once,
But little known in story;
To bed betimes, and rising late,
Sound sleeper without glory;
With cotton nightcap, too, instead
Of crown, would Jenny deck his head—
'Tis said.
Rat tat, rat tat, rat tat, rat tat!
What a nice little king was that!
Rat tat! (Johnson, 155)

6. James 4. 17. To him that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin; but not a sin of the least degree, as the phrase at first sight, seems to import; but of a very great aggravation, being against reason and reflection, and so a very dangerous and presumptive sin. (Norwood, 27)

7. But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity . . .
--Shakespeare, "Sonnet 62" (Vickers 496)

Kind Of Opposition
Part Of litotes
Related Figures irony, litotes, auxesis, hyperbole, charientismus,
Notes Related Topic of Invention: Degree Meiosis does not work as a figure unless one senses the degree of difference between the label and the thing it labels. It is thus related to this kind of comparative strategy. -AM As Auxesis of small things makes great matters, so Meiosis of great matters makes but trifles. In Meiosis, the speaker ought to take care that he fall not into that fault of speech, called Tapinosis, humility, that is when the dignity or majesty of a high matter is much defaced by the basenesse of a word; as to call the Ocean a stream, or the Thames a brook, a foughten field a fray, great wisdome pretty wit; or as if one should say to a King, May it please your Mastership. (JG Smith)
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Daniel Etigson
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes
Reviewed No