Hyperbole: Two of two -- Meiosis minimizes

In Nuce: Writing -- Meiosis
"Bag of bones:" Meiosis is a form of hyperbole which diminishes its subject.
 There are two types of hyperbole,
  1. Auxesis augments, making things greater than they really are.
  2. Meiosis minimizes, making things less than they really are.
This  post considers meiosis.

Meiosis (my-o'-sis), from a Greek root meaning "to lessen," is a form of hyperbole that diminishes, rather than expands, a subject.

Noah Webster,  remarks that "when we say, a lean man is a mere skeleton, we exceed the truth in diminution," which is meiosis.

Meiosis is sometimes hard to distinguish from litotes, in that the "lessening" may be equated with understatement. However, Nordquist tells us that true litotes is "an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite," as in 
"Are you also aware, Mrs. Bueller, that Ferris does not have what we consider to be an exemplary attendance record?" (Jeffrey Jones as Principal Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)
As in litotes, there often is irony involved. William Walsh, in Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, makes the following observations:
[Meiosis] is a favorite trick in American humor. The English jester emphasizes, italicizes, and underscores his jokes; he distrusts his audience; the American drops his good things carelessly—under his breath, as it were—and hurries on almost before his hearers are "on to him." An excellent and widely known example of this rhetorical figure occurs in Bret Harte's description of the scientific gentleman who, being hit in the abdomen by a chunk of old red sandstone,—
Curled up on the floor,
And the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.
...Another good American example lies in the familiar chestnut, the story of the traveling Yankee's reply to a European who wished to know if he had just crossed the Alps:
"Wal, now you call my attention to the fact, I guess I did pass risin' ground."
...Though this noble figure [meiosis] is far less regarded in English than in American literature, it cannot be said to be entirely unknown there. W. S. Gilbert is very fond of it, as in his "Bab Ballads:"
I've studied human nature, and I know a thing or two;
Though a girl may fondly love a living gent, as many do,
A feeling of disgust upon her senses there will fall
When she looks upon his body chopped particularly small.
In this gay trifling with a gruesome subject Gilbert may have taken the cue from De Quincey's famous essay on "Murder as a Fine Art." Here is a sample paragraph:
If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.
...What is called "breaking the news" frequently takes the form of meiosis. Sheridan, the sorely dunned, tells the story of how his faithful old servant gave him information of the visit a bailiff had paid him in his absence. Sheriffs' officers were known far and wide in London in those days by their scarlet waistcoats, the color being a sort of signal of distress, as in an auctioneer's flag. When the graceless but gifted Sheridan got home the old woman broke it gently to him in this fashion: "Please, sir, there was a gentleman called while you were away, as was rather in a red waistcoat than otherwise, sir."
*Meiosis is also a biological term for cell division when chromosomes are reduced by half.

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