Definition of Meiosis As a Literary Term and Its Use in Media and Literature
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Definition of Meiosis As a Literary Term and Its Use in Media and Literature

Meiosis in the study of literature describes the use of understatement to emphasise a point, understated responses to or descriptions of a situation used to heighten the impact of a dramatic moment. The information below is intended to help define the term meiosis, and to show some examples of meiosis in literature and the media.

Meiosis in the study of literature describes the use of understatement to emphasise a point, understated responses to or descriptions of a situation used to heighten the impact of a dramatic moment. The information below is intended to help define the term meiosis, and to show some examples of meiosis in literature and the media. The word itself originates from the Greek word for lessening, and is barely used today as a term in criticism or analysis, but the technique is prevalent is our daily lives from general daily conversation to TV and Film scripts.

When any heroine is finally asked out by her love interest and answers with a version of “Um, I guess that would be OK” meiosis is being used to heighten awareness of just how strongly she feels for her protagonist. When a group of friends walk out of a concert having spent the evening dancing and laughing it’s not unusual for one of the party to use meiosis humorously and say “it was OK I guess”.

A hugely affective use of meiosis is for tragic effect. In King Lear Shakespeare shows Lear suffering greater and greater personal tragedies, the loss of his children, home, kingdom, and is given appropriately emotive speeches, but he also has moments of calm, such as where he stops and asks “Pray you undo this button”. Moving from the highly emotional calls to God and to the fates, to the smaller prosaic image of a button shirt cuff is used to remind us of his humanity, allowing us to empathise, and it emphasises the scale of the drama that is unfolding through this character. The tone moves from one of high tension and large scale imagery of gods and heavens, kingdoms, and the fates to a button.

Meiosis can also be used to describe mannerism and tone; a brooding, quiet, Byronic hero will often be understated in action and tone. Many popular vampire series and books such as Twilight, or the vampire diaries, have an understated character their protagonist. He or she will often be shown against highly flamboyant peers, with more decadent and eccentric dress and manners. The protagonist moves quietly and calmly, understated in their speech, clothing and everyday actions. When they are unleashed into action, or expressing the so only hinted at emotions there is greater impact.

Meiosis in not uncommon at all within our daily lives, modern or old literature or media, we recognise understatement, in humour, in modesty, in calm and contained characters and personalities, and its rhetorical effect, its ability to move us means we probably always will.

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Comments (6)

I must admit that is a new literary term for me. Thanks for the enlightenment!

This was an excellent account, with some great examples.

This is a new literary term for me too and I really appreciated this article on it and the examples you gave. Should you ever be looking for a beta-reader, I'll put my hand up for the job!

You might just live to regret that offer Michelle :P

Great article Louise - thank you for educating me on this point. But, what's a beta-reader?

Hi Judith, beta-readers read through novels before sending them off to editors and advise on plot holes, typos, and generally give feedback :)

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