On this date in 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped on his country, Emperor Hirohito of Japan addressed his nation in a radio broadcast. -The speech was notable not only because it was the first time that a Japanese emperor had addressed the common people, but also because of its understatement of the situation.
In announcing Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, Hirohito attempted to soften the blow of defeat by understating its effect, saying:
“the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage . . . .”
Understatement is a rhetorical device use by speakers and writers to deliberately make something seem less serious than it actually is. It may be used to soften serious matters as in the Emperor’s broadcast, or it can be used for humorous effect. A classic example of this is in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After confronting King Arthur and having both of his arms cut off, the Black Knight continues to taunt Arthur with the understatement, “It’s just a flesh wound!”
Today’s Challenge: The Understatement of the Century
Generate a list of bad news stories from the past ten years. Imagine a spokesperson trying to break the bad news utilizing understatement to soften the blow.
Example: Payton Manning speaking to Denver Bronco fans after losing Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 43-8: “We got down early and just ran out of time to mount a comeback.”
Quotation of the Day: I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. –Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.