Meiosis (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
A scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 Python (Monty) Pictures

(1) To belittle, use a degrading epithet or nickname, often through a trope of one word. A concise form of invective.

(2) A kind of humorous understatement that dismisses or belittles, especially by using terms that make something seem less significant than it really is or ought to be.
Plural meioses; adjectival form, meiotic.

See Examples and Observations, below.

From the Greek, "diminish"

Definition #1: Examples and Observations

  • "Meiosis, often achieved through a trope of one word, may range from bitter scorn to light derision."​
    (Sister Miriam Joseph, Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, 1947)
  • "The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable."
    (Oscar Wilde on fox hunting)
  • "rhymester" for poet
  • "grease monkey" for mechanic
  • "shrink" for psychiatrist
  • "slasher" for surgeon
  • "right-wing nutjobs" for Republicans; "left-wing pansies" for Democrats
  • "pecker checker" for urologist
  • "ambulance chaser" for personal injury lawyer
  • "short-order chef" for morgue worker
  • "treehugger" for "environmentalist"
  • King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft excalibur from the bosom of the water.
    Peasant: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Power derives from the masses not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
    King Arthur: Be quiet!
    Peasant: You can't expect to wield supreme power because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
    King Arthur: Shut up!
    Peasant: If I went around saying I was an emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me . . .."
    (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975)

Definition #2: Examples and Observations

  • "Meiosis is a statement that depicts something important in terms that lessen or belittle it. [Woody] Allen's fictitious graduation speech . . . alternated between hyperbole and meiosis. Discussing the crisis of alienation in society, Allen remarked. 'Man has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars.' Commenting on the benefits of democracy, Allen observed, 'In a democracy at least, civil liberties are upheld. No citizen can be wantonly tortured, imprisoned, or made to sit through certain Broadway shows.' The pattern in each case was the same. Allen introduced a 'serious' topic, began to treat it in a dignified and elevated manner, but ended on a note of understatement."
    (James Jasinksi, Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage, 2001)
  • "In 'The Black Cat' [by Edgar Allen Poe] the narrator . . . wants desperately to believe that the narrative he is about to relate is not one of supernatural vengeance on the part of demonic cats and punishing gods; rather, he calls it--again using meiosis--a homely narrative. By homely he means ordinary. Through meiosis he attempts to downplay the events and their possible implications for his soul. When he mentions the apparent shape of the white fur on the second cat as resembling a gallows, he again tries to deemphasize the significance of the phenomenon by referring to it 'as one of the merest chimeras it would be possible to conceive.' He frantically wants to believe that the gallows on the cat's fur is a mere trick of the imagination and not a supernatural portent of his doom."
    (Brett Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005)

Pronunciation: MI-o-sis

Also Known As: diminutio, minution, extenuatio, figure of extenuation, prosonomasia, the disabler, the nicknamer

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Meiosis (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Meiosis (Rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Meiosis (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).