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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:43

Video transcript

- [Rosie] Hello, grammarians, hello David. - [David] Hello, Rosie! - [Rosie] So today, we're going to talk about understatement and overstatement. - [David] And I could not be more excited. This is like the coolest thing that's happened to me all week! - [Rosie] Oh my gosh. Really? (laughs) - [David] Uh, uh, uh, no. I mean, I'm excited. This is a really interesting topic, but I was deliberately overstating. - [Rosie] Yeah, I mean, it's pretty cool, but that is, that does, that is a perfect example, David, of what overstatement is. So we're gonna look at a couple examples of what writers will do sometimes to, I would say, both understatement and overstatement really help to drive a point home. We're gonna start with understatement. So David, you wanna read this sentence? - [David] Sure. "So you kidnapped my dog, "drove to New Orleans without telling anyone, "and ate the last cookie that I was saving? "Yeah, I'm like, vaguely unhappy." (Rosie laughs softly) - [Rosie] This is a horrible thing that just happened. So when you said, "Yeah, I'm like vaguely unhappy," after this huge list of horrible things that this supposed friend has done, you know, it's clear that, that you're more than just a little, vaguely unhappy. - [David] To be clear, grammarians, Rosie did not do any of these things. (Rosie laughs softly) - [Rosie] Thank you, David. - [David] This sentence is a work of fiction. - [Rosie] Thank you for letting me off the hook there. - [David] You're welcome. So what we're trying to express in this sentence is that this is something that should make the speaker or the writer quite unhappy. But what we're doing here is deliberately understating the case to further drive home the point that this is actually quite serious. - [Rosie] Exactly. - [David] So, ironically, while the writer is using minimizing language, saying, "I am vaguely unhappy," or, "like vaguely unhappy," which serves to further qualify that statement, the fact that they're saying that after such a litany of sins, like, the cookie even, that's just ugh! Really serve to drive home the opposite effect. So this is a textbook example of understatement. - [Rosie] All right, so we've seen an example of understatement. Let's take a look at what an overstatement might look like. - [David] "My life is over. "I got a D on the midterm. "I am dead; I am literally a skeleton." - [Rosie] Hooo, wow. (laughs) So this is a great, a great example of overstatement. - [David] So we know this isn't true, right? Made a D on your midterm, not great. But is it truly and actually the end of someone's life? No, and this author, this writer knows that, knows what they are saying, because skeletons can't write. - [Rosie] Exactly. You might have also heard of hyperbole, which is what this is. It's just like, way exaggeration. But it serves to drive home this person's point that they feel really bad that they got a D on this midterm, and this is a very effective way of conveying to us how upset they are, even though they're not literally a skeleton, and they don't think they're literally a skeleton. - [David] I think the emotional impact of this is much more effective than it would be if I just said, "I am very upset, "because I got a D on my midterm." Like, I think this is more expressive. And certainly it's not true, but I think there's an interesting way to play with over and understatement in order to get feelings across. I think, I think there's like, a little bit of a taboo in American English-speaking culture to too literally say the state of your emotions, and so we've discovered these cultural idioms, through which we transmit emotion. So like, compare the following two examples, delivered by Rosie. - [Rosie] 'Kay. "I'm very angry." Or, "Yeah, you could say I'm a little upset." - [David] Now Rosie is using understatement that I think, and I feel that the, the statement that uses understatement actually conveys more anger, because it's more socially acceptable in the United States to somewhat publicly repress your emotions. - [Rosie] Yeah, exactly. I mean, you could hear somebody say, "Yeah, I think I'm pretty upset about that." And they're kinda laughing, but they're upset. - [David] You can see the glorious subtlety of these language techniques. And I understand, this can make English a minefield for people trying to learn the language, because the subtext of what you're saying, with overstatement and understatement, is more important than the text itself. - [Rosie] Exactly. - [David] It's very difficult to learn to interpret those cues. There are plenty of native speakers who have trouble with it. - [Rosie] It's true. And it's just something that you can keep an eye out for when you're reading and also when you're talking to people. It may start to, you may start to spot them more, as you listen. - [David] And I suspect that, if you listen and you study, I have this sneaking minute suspicion that you can learn anything. David, out. - [Rosie] Rosie, out. - [David] That was awesome. - [Rosie] That was fun!