Less is More: The British Art of Understatement

The Brits are masters of dry humour and understatement. 

“Not bad” usually means “absolutely great.” And a “bit of rain”? Well, you might want to bring your boat along. 

“It’s a bit of a squeeze in here” means the room is packed. “I’m a bit peckish” means I’m starving. And “I wouldn’t say I’m a genius, but I’m certainly above average” means I’m a genius!

Why do they do it?

It’s all about being polite and humble.

Brits don’t want to brag or boast about their accomplishments. And they don’t want to seem too emotional.

Understatement is a way of showing that they are confident in themselves without being arrogant.

How to Understand Understatement

But if you’re not British, it can be hard to understand what someone is really saying when they use understatement. 

So here are a few tips:

  • Listen for the tone of voice. The tone of voice can often be more important than the words themselves. If someone says, “Well, it was an interesting experience,” in a sarcastic tone, they’re probably not being as complimentary as they seem.
  • Look for body language. Body language can also be a clue. If someone shrugs their shoulders and says, “It was okay,” they probably didn’t think it was that great.
  • Consider the context. What was the situation leading up to the statement? If someone just finished a marathon and says, “Well, I survived,” they’re probably being pretty humble about their accomplishment.

So, the next time you hear a British person downplay their achievements or feelings, don’t take it personally. It’s just their way of expressing themselves.

And by the way … writing this text was a bit of challenge …

Oh sorry, what I mean was that it was incredibly difficult!


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Foto Christine Sparks

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