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
A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase for another more frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience...

, 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
British humour
British humour is a somewhat general term applied to certain comedic motifs that are often prevalent in comedic acts originating in the United Kingdom and its current or former colonies...

. 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." The unofficial Google slogan, "Don't be evil
Don't Be Evil
"Don't be evil" is the informal corporate motto of Google, originally suggested by Google employees Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel at a meeting...

", is another example of understatement, where one might expect something stronger, more akin to "always be good". The slogan is meant to be a humorous jab at its competitors.

Notable historic examples

Event: The well-known Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 critique of Cleopatra's behaviour: "So unlike the home life of our own dear Queen!"
Event: In April 1951 650 British fighting men - soldiers and officers from the 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment - were deployed on the most important crossing on the Imjin River to block the traditional invasion route to Seoul. The Chinese had sent an entire division - 10,000 men - to smash the isolated Glosters aside in a major offensive to take the whole Korean peninsula, and the small force was gradually surrounded and overwhelmed.

After two days fighting, an American, Maj-Gen Robert H Soule, asked the British brigadier, Thomas Brodie: "How are the Glosters doing?" The brigadier, schooled in British understatement, replied: "A bit sticky, things are pretty sticky down there." To American ears, this did not sound too desperate, and so he ordered them to stand fast. Only 40 Glosters managed to escape.

Event: During the Kuala Lumpur to Perth leg of British Airways Flight 9
British Airways Flight 9
British Airways Flight 9, sometimes referred to by its callsign Speedbird 9 or Jakarta incident, was a scheduled British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Auckland, with stops in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, and Melbourne....

 on 24 June 1982, volcanic ash
Volcanic ash
Volcanic ash consists of small tephra, which are bits of pulverized rock and glass created by volcanic eruptions, less than in diameter. There are three mechanisms of volcanic ash formation: gas release under decompression causing magmatic eruptions; thermal contraction from chilling on contact...

 causes all four engines of the Boeing 747
Boeing 747
The Boeing 747 is a wide-body commercial airliner and cargo transport, often referred to by its original nickname, Jumbo Jet, or Queen of the Skies. It is among the world's most recognizable aircraft, and was the first wide-body ever produced...

 aircraft to fail. Although pressed for time as the aircraft rapidly lost altitude, Captain Eric Moody still managed to make an announcement to the passengers. Comment: "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."

Event: A 2006 interview regarding current affairs in the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Comment by the Foreign Minister: "I think there's a problem between Shias and Sunnis". (BBC World Service
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

, 23:50, Australian Eastern Standard Time, May 18, 2006)
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