The word meiosis literally means to "make smaller." In literature, statements that deliberately downplay a situation, or understatements that serve to actually highlight a situation and create dramatic irony, are referred to as meiosis.
When Mercutio is dying in Romeo and Juliet, he refers to his wound in the following way: "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch."
Paul, the apostle, deliberately understates his importance in this passage from 1 Corinthians:
For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.
In Monty Python, an amputated leg is referred to as a "flesh wound."
rom Mary Howitt's "The Spider and The Fly"-the spider attempts to lure the fly into his web (or "parlour"):
Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there.
From The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:
It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.
Literary Terms Examples