Describing an atomic explosion as being "somewhat noisy."
A statement which, while technically accurate in a strictly literal sense, fails to convey the magnitude of the situation being described.
There are many ways to use this trope. One common way is following the Rule of Three by having two strongly made points followed by something more casual. It may help to have a Deadpan Snarker who habitually presents things in the least exciting manner. The Ditz may make understatements unintentionally.
In any case, understatement only works where a tension level has been built to go "under". Note that like sarcasm, some people are completely blind to the effect.
British and Australian humor occasionally demonstrates this.
See also Litotes, which is dramatic understatement, typically using double negatives to peak effect. For example the phrase 'Not Bad' meaning 'Good'.
Please don't sinkhole this article in your own attempt at an understatement on the wiki. It's tacky. The attempt either works or it doesn't.
The title character employs this often in her everyday speech. Telling her daughter Vivio that "This is going to hurt a bit" before blasting her with fiveStarlight Breakers at the same time is just one of many examples. Another infamous example: "Shall I cool your head a little?", which she uttered to a rebellious Teana before bombarding her into unconsciousness using her own spell.
Code Geass has Nunnally become a master of understatement with "In the past, unfortunate happenings took place inside the Special Administrative Region of Japan." "Unfortunate happenings" meaning genocide.
Fuuma: It looks like my big brother-san is starting to take this seriously. Mokona: What happens if Seishirou gets serious? Fuuma: That's when things get just a little bit scary.
Guts from Berserk tends to be fairly nonchalant about things that would send other people screaming for the hills. One instance stands out, though, when he's fighting in his pain-nullifying Berserker armor. After getting bitten by what is basically a possessed sperm whale, picked up by a tornado and dropped from a height of several hundred feet, and catching a burning main mast (that would normally take 12 men and a bunch of pulleys to lift) before it falls on his friends, he remarks, deadpan, "Well, I'm gonna be sore in the morning."
State Alchemist: You were killed for disrespecting your superior officer's orders.
Kimblee: You could say that...or you could say I made women and children go boom. And when my superiors complained...
Two good Mahou Sensei Negima! examples. One, Tsukuyomi casually mentions to Fate that she's never gotten along with other people very well. Tsukuyomi only falls short of an Omnicidal Maniac in it For the Evulz because she lacks the power. Godel also sends Negi a brief note with a cheery smile about how their last meeting probably didn't go very well if he's reading this now. Godel just tried to chop Negi's limbs off and made a huge wound in 'Asuna's' shoulder.
In Digimon Tamers, one of the Digimon, which is shaped like a gear, does this a lot.
Hagurumon: (later) It's a disaster! It's terrible! Meh, guess it's not that good.
Reversed in Mobile Suit Gundam Abridged by Gutted Wren Studios, when Char talks to Vice Admiral Dozle after one of Char's first encounters with the Gundam and reports back to Dozle (against his own will) and says the Gundam has 6 arms and eats people.
In Black Lagoon, Dutch gets Rock to take care of their hostage with the following statement:
"Rock, could you take over babysitting? As you can see, not a lot of maternal instinct there."
— Dutch, in response to Revy opening fire on an unarmed child hostage.
The first preview video of Kotoura-san, where Haruka interiews herself, she gravely downplays the effects of her telepathy powers on her. She at most says, "I don't really want it," and uses her constant Dirty Mind Reading from Manabe as an example. That is actually the least of her problems, particularly considering he's her first friend in nearly a decade. In an oversimplification, Haruka's telepathic powers left her friendless, socially stigmatized and severely traumatized. In fact, she started to sweat profusely as the "interview" goes on and eventually she decides it's too tiring to go on.
Batman saying he knows he's "not an easy person to know". Cue the dumbstruck look on the faces of the assembled Batfamily.
Oracle: Well... that's about the understatement of the century, I'd say.
A vintage Whitney Darrow cartoon for The New Yorker magazine has a trio of robbers emerging from a bank with their loot, to face an encircling cordon of heavily-armed police, a swarm of press vehicles and about a thousand rubberneckers. One of the robbers: "There must have been a leak."
Evey's reaction to V blowing up the Houses of Parliament in V for Vendetta: "But that... that's against the law!"
Empowered: "... guess th' white capes might be underestimatin' ol' Willy Pete jus' a li'l bit less, next time around."
Laurel and Hardy: In the short film Helpmates, Stan Laurel tries to help a desperate Oliver Hardy clean up after a wild party before the shrewish Mrs. Hardy returns home. One thing leads to another and Stan ends up burning Ollie's house down. After a tearful apology, he caps it off by stating, "Well, I guess there's nothing left for me to do." Ollie sighs with resignation and says, "I guess not."
Apollo 13: "...they won't know where they're headed." "That's a bad way to fly."
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: "Years ago, something happened up there. Something not very nice." In the trailers for the movie, this quote by Mrs. Lovett was used to refer to Sweeney's rather... bloody... killing spree. But in the context of the movie (and the play it was based on), it referred to Benjamin Barker's false transportation for life and would lead into the number "Poor Thing", where we find out that Judge Turpin, after the above Kick the Dog moment, had his way with the guy's poor wife.
Harry: "Come seek us where our voices sound." Hermione: The Black Lake, that's obvious. Harry: "An hour long you'll have to look." Hermione: Again, obvious, though admittedly potentially problematic. Harry: "Potentially problematic"? When was the last time you held your breath underwater for an hour, Hermione?
Chamber of Secrets: Hermione, referring to Large Ham ghost Moaning Myrtle:
Hermione: She's a little sensitive.
In the same film, after surviving a harrowing encounter with the Hogwarts Express:
In Star Trek, Spock Prime's assessment of the bastard who destroyed Vulcan because SP failed to save Romulus in the future: "He is a particularly troubled Romulan." Leave it to Spock - any Spock - to be a master of understatement.
From the same conversation:
Kirk: "So you're saying I have to emotionally compromise you guys." Spock Prime: Jim, I just lost my planet. I can tell you, I am emotionally compromised."
The other was provided, once again, by The Spock: "Two months ago a Federation Starship monitored an explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis." If you call being knocked off course and nearly shaken to pieces "monitoring".
In the ending of Kill Bill, Bill explains his massacre of everyone attending the Bride's wedding by saying that he "overreacted." Oh, and this little gem:
Earl McGraw: It would appear someone objected to this union and wasn't able to hold their peace.
In Gladiator, the Emperor says of his son, "Commodus is not a moral man." Even he had no idea.
Lampshaded in I, Robot. After the robot rebellion that the Properly Paranoid protagonist Spooner predicted starts, Spooner shows up an expert in robotics who dismissed his warnings before and says with grim satisfaction:
You know, somehow, "I told you so" just doesn't quite say it.
Galaxy Quest's Tech Sergeant Fred Kwan prefers these; his reaction to being unexpectedly teleported 8 million lightyears in a gel-pod to land on an alien ship was a subdued "That was a helluva thing."
Fight Club: "You met me at a very strange time in my life."
Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, just after the atmospheric entry tore off the bigger part of the Invisible Hand (the ship he happens to be flying): "We lost something." This was immediately lampshaded with Obi-Wan's reply: "Not to worry, we are still flying half a ship."
In Women in Trouble, when asked if she's a virgin, porn megastar Elektra Luxx replies "No."
General Buck Turgidson gets several of these in quick succession when he informs the President of the United States that General Ripper, a lower echelon American military commander, has ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union without the approval or knowledge of the White House or the Pentagon.
When the President asks how General Ripper could possibly order such an attack, Buck says:
"Although I hate to judge before all the facts are in, it's beginning to look like General Ripper exceeded his authority."
The President questions how the Human Reliability Tests didn't catch General Ripper's burgeoning psychosis:
"Well, I don't think it's quite fair to condemn the whole program because of a single slip-up, sir."
Buck advocates following General Ripper's lead and to launch an all-out nuclear attack on Russia:
"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops.
Hoodwinked! - when the Wolf watches Red Puckett fall several hundred feet from a moving cable car cabin, he summarizes it on his note-to-self tape recorder as, "Ouch."
Young Frankenstein: In a deleted scene, it was revealed that, to be allowed to inherit his great-grandfather's estate, Frederick Frankenstein had to become a medical doctor on his own will and earn some measure of esteem on his field. A relative then asked if Frederick did acquire a "measure of esteem" and was told he's the fifth most respected expert on his field.
In Aliens, Burke tries to explain away his deadly scheme as "I made a decision, and it was... wrong. It was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call." Ripley immediately calls him out.
In Tangled, Rapunzel rapidly shifts between elation at her newfound freedom and despair at the thought of actually having run away from her "mother" (actually her kidnapper, but she doesn't know that) several times. Flynn snarks "You know...I can't help but notice you seem a little at war with yourself here."
In "Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie", the parents are loudly arguing when the mom see the children watching.
Mom: It's okay. Your father and I were just having a little disagreement.
Adamist Officer: I've always been a massive admirer of the Edenist ability to understate. But I think defining a chunk of land fifteen kilometres across that suddenly takes flight and wanders off into another dimension as a little problem is possibly the best example yet.
The Edenist: I never said little.
In David Eddings' The Tamuli Emperor Sarabian is said, by his ambassador, to use this. A hurricane is "a light breeze"; the loss of half his fleet is "a minor inconvenience"; the imminent collapse of his empire as "some civil unrest." This is a tendency common among Tamuls as they have a racial tendency toward extreme politeness.
Eddings has a tendency to use this trope. In Belgarath the Sorcerer, Belgarath notes that "Alorns take a petty delight in gross understatement" after Beltira comments "we wouldn't want that" with regards to the ending of the world. The original example would be in Castle of Wizardry. A horde of Algarian calvary so large as to make their approach resemble thunder falls on a small army that was pursuing the protagonists, slaughtering most of them and driving the rest away. Described by King Cho-Hag as an "interesting morning."
This is The Way The World Ends by James Morrow: "Chapter 5 - In Which the Limitations of Civil Defense Are Explicated in a Manner Some Readers May Find Distressing." This is the chapter in which, well... look at the bloody title.
"I thought you were dead. I lost my temper," says Daine Sarrasri, by way of explanation for levelling an imperial palace with SKELETON ZOMBIE DINOSAURS and then setting hyenas on the culprit.
Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks has a brief history of the interstellar war the novel is set in. The "Statistics" section says the war lasted for forty-eight years and a month and saw (among other losses) the death of over 851 billion sentient beings, and the destruction of 91,215,660 ships, 53 planets and moons and six stars, followed by a "Historical perspective":
A small, short war that rarely extended throughout more than .02% of the galaxy and .01% by stellar population... the galaxy's elder civilisations rate the Idiran-Culture war as... one of those singularly interesting Events they see so rarely these days.
"The Vervain invasion is now officially described as an unauthorized adventure. The erring officers have been corrected, thank you." "What do they call the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar in my grandfather's time? A Reconnaissance in force?" "When they mention it at all, yes." "All twenty years of it?"
The Discworld novel Soul Music features a ruthless Troll crime boss, Chrysoprase : "People tended not to speak to Chrysoprase in case they said something that offended him. They wouldn't know it at the time. They'd know it later, when they were in some dark alley and a voice behind them said: Mr Chrysoprase is really upset."
The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink.
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink,
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, "It looks like rain, I think."
In Dredd, at the end of the movie, the Chief Judge shows up to debrief Dredd on what went down at Peach Trees (including gatling guns chewing up a block, taking out a major distribution and production hub for drugs, taking down one of the more powerful criminal organisations in Mega City One, a ridiculously high body count, and taking down four corrupt Judges).
Mal to Patience: "Well, we may not have parted on the best of terms...I realize certain words were exchanged...also, certain bullets..." (She had shot him).
The opening narration from the "Train Job", provided by Book: "The central planets formed the Alliance and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. [intercuts with footage from the Battle of Serenity] There was some disagreement on the matter."
In Safe Mal says of River: "She makes things not be smooth."
Friday Night Fights: ESPN's Teddy Atlas frequently uses "he got a little bit careless" to describe a fighter who has just been spectacularly knocked out (or "you can see his power a little bit on that punch" for the victorious fighter).
Dr. K: Gem and Gemma have confronted me with the possibility that in an effort to protect myself from future emotional trauma, I may have treated some of you with a degree of forced emotional detachment, perhaps even bordering on coldness.
The official description for Prillitoos, a program aimed for older people, states that it awaits those who aren't very young anymore, to watch this program.
Red Dwarf. After the future Rimmer mentions they spend time with the Hitlers and the Goerings:
Future Rimmer:It's just a bit unfortunate that the finest things tend to be in the possession of people who are judged to be a bit dodgy.
Kryten: Herman Goering is a "bit dodgy"?!
Rome has Octavius explaining why it might be better to sit out a long siege rather than burn down Cleopatra's palace:
We are trying to keep the locals calm. Burning down the royal palace with their queen still inside might make them slightly peevish.
The Shield had Claudette, having destroyed Vic Mackey's life by exposing his sins to his fellow cops PLUS his betrayal of his last remaining friend Ronnie (who was arrested), banished Vic for life from the Farmington District Precinct with the four following words: "You Can Go Now."
McCoy: Second degree burns. Not serious but I bet they smart. Spock: Doctor, you have an unsurpassed talent for understatement.
Star Trek episode "I, Mudd" has this excellent exchange
Mudd: Well of course I... left. Kirk: He broke jail. Mudd: I borrowed transportation. Kirk: He stole a ship! Mudd: The patrol reacted hostilely. Kirk: They FIRED at him! Mudd: They've no respect for private property! They damaged the bloody spaceship!
Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance", the crew of the Enterprise comes up with a plan to make it seem as though they have destroyed the Hathaway by firing photon torpedoes at it and detonating them a millisecond after the Hathaway jumps to warp. The problem is, they don't know whether or not the Hathaway will be able to do this. Data describes the outcome of a failure to jump to warp as "unfortunate".
Played on The Vampire Diaries. Hm-m-m, do you want to know how Damon became such a bad man? Just ask him:
Damon In all this important soul-searching. And cleansing of the demons of Stefan's past, did you ever manage to get the rest of the story?
Elena He said there was more.
Damon Yeah. That's an understatement.
Occasionally played on Top Gear. One example comes from the episode where they take a trio of Alfa Romeos to the track. Richard (in the pits) radios Jeremy to see how he's doing. Jeremy replies that he's doing "Not brilliantly." Cut to Jeremy's car flipped onto its side.
Whenever some one says "That's not gone well" it's usually caught fire or crashed. Or both. (There's even a poster)
In the Botswana episode, Richard claims his car has "got a bit of water in it." He says this while watching Oliver drown in a lake.
Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak to the show's first $1,000,000 winner, Michelle Loewenstein: "You may be one of our bigger winners." (The previous winnings record being barely one-tenth of that.)
In their dark song Protect and Survive, The Dubliners mock an official nuclear attack survival guide that was issued by the British government in the 70's and 80's. The second stanza serves as one huge understatement.
Well a nuclear strike could be recognised / It would stand out in a crowd /There's a flash, then a bang, then a blast of heat / And a bloody great mushroom cloud / So if you happen to see one at the end of your street / Would you please pick up the telephone and inform your local police
"Weird Al" Yankovic's "You Don't Love Me Anymore" has a description to what the narrator's mate has done (among other things, pushing the guy in an elevator shaft, putting piranhas in his bathtub and shaving his eyebrows). His response? "Got a funny feeling you don't love me anymore."
John Prine's "Please Don't Bury Me" includes the following line:
When I got there, they did say, "John, it happened this-a way: you slipped upon the floor and hit your head."
Arthur: What happened to the Earth? Ford: It's been disintegrated. Arthur: Has it? Ford: Yeah. It just boiled away into space. Arthur: Listen, Ford, I'm a bit upset about that.
"Warhammer 40000 is not a happy place." This bleeds into the fandom so much that, on this very wiki, it has been remarked that such things as losing your home planet is not sufficient enough reason to Wangst.
Exalted: "Solar Exalted have poor impulse control."
Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio is fatally stabbed in a fight with Tybalt. When Benvolio asks if he's hurt, Mercutio replies, "Ay, a scratch.", then follows with, "But 'tis enough, 'twill serve." when he realizes that he's dying. In a play where everything is overstated and exaggerated, his understatement shows us how bad the situation really is, making it that much more heartbreaking.
In BlazBlueHazama is forced to leave the heroes alive at the end of CS. His response is "Guess I went a little crazy there".
The official description of Cave Story says "This is a jumping-and-shooting action game. In a cave. ...Also you can save." Also, Momorin's "Chivalry is dead, let me tell you" after being thrown off a floating island.
In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the Black Knight's Mastery Skill, Eclipse, states that it will inflict 5 times the Black Knights strength. The Black Knight has over 30 strength. The most health a player unit can have is 90, the final boss having 120. 150-120=DEAD.
This video shows a hacked battle between the Black Knight and the final boss (as said fight would be impossible in-game). Both characters are maxed out. Black Knight uses Eclipse on the final boss, whose HP is 120. BK's maxed out attack made each hit worth 58 damage (as said by the creator in the comments). 58 x 5 = 290 damage. No more need be said.
RuneScape gives us the description of the quest "One Small Favor" (a quest that's an infuriatingly long Chain of Deals):
Quest Length: Short (With some longer parts as well.)
The commander of the Earth Defense Force in Earth Defense Force 2017 calls the player character, Storm 1, a "great soldier" later on in the game. For reasons on why this is an absolutely HUGE understatement, read the description for Badass in that games article.
When Metal Gear Ray is curbstomping an oil tanker into oblivion in Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake says to Otacon "This is bad..."
Metal Gear Solid 3 has this wonderful number from EVA (Snake's love interest), "Not good." What makes this an understatement is that EVA says this after Ocelot (Snake's rival) had shot out the engine of the WiG with his revolver that she was piloting to get Snake and her out of Russia, Ocelot then jumps onto the plane and proceeds to engage Snake in a hand to hand brawl with Snake not having a gun to defend himself should Ocelot pull his out (which he does), all the while EVA is trying to keep the plane stable so it doesn't crash into the lake they happen to be over. Yeah EVA, of course your current situation is not good.
In Portal, the mildly psychotic supercomputer, GLaDOS, also likes to understate things.
GLaDOS: While safety is one of many Enrichment Center goals, the Aperture Science High-Energy Pellet seen to the left of the chamber can, and has caused, permanent disabilities, such as vaporization. Please be careful.
GLaDOS: (later) As part of a previously mentioned required test protocol, we can no longer lie to you. When the testing is over you will be... missed.
At first it sounds like GLaDOS just likes you so much that it is going to miss you, but listening to GLaDOS' later line "The Enrichment Center reminds you, that in the end you will be baked, and then there will be cake", you should know what to expect.
GLaDOS: (even later) Due to mandatory scheduled maintenance, the appropriate chamber for this next testing sequence is currently unavailable. It has been replaced with a live-fire course designed for military androids. The Enrichment Center apologizes for this inconvenience and wishes you the best of luck.
GLaDOS: (again) Although the euthanizing process is remarkably painful, 8 out of 10 Aperture Science engineers believe that the companion cube is most likely incapable of feeling much pain.
GLaDOS: Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, followed by death.
In Assassin's Creed II, Cristina Vespucci said of her cousin to a prospective employer of his: "Try Amerigo out. I bet in a decade you'll have named your shipping company after him." Biggest understatement of the century.
In horror/survival RPG Koudelka, the text descriptions that you get when clicking on environments are often this. For example, in one room featuring a towering guillotine with a crimson-stained blade, blood-splattered walls and floor, and later a couple of corpses, both shot through the head and lying in pools of their own blood, you get this text: "You see dried blood spots here and there."
In Obscure 2, after one character turns into a giant, mutated abomination, pins another character to the wall with a knife, and crushes the skull of another under his foot, his friends burst in and confront him with this line.
Stan: Kenny, you've become a major jerk, man.
In Deadly Premonition, York's (well, Zach's) greatest insult to the ultimate villain of the game, Forrest Kayson, who at that point has been revealed to be an inhuman demon who has corrupted the town, caused people to kill each other, inspired the raincoat killer's spree and has just raped and murdered Emily? "You're one crazy guy".
In Civilization V you have the option of choosing Fascism for your society. The last part of the historical description reads: "This form of government was quite popular with certainstates in Central Europe during the last century but other states didn't much like it, and it was ultimately abandoned after someunpleasantness."
Mega Man: We have a slight problem. There's about five million Robot Masters outside, and they all wanna kick my ass. (Beat Panel) Alternate Mega Man: We may wanna work on your definition of the word "slight."
Smic: [The best part of Christmas] used to be building the gargantuan robotic Father Christmas powered by atmospheric engine, who would duel with my brother's contraption for the right of the first choice of Faberge egg. Hannah: You had a strange childhood, Smic.
The That Guy with the Glasses sketch "How I quit my job" ends on one. This after having played "Also Sprach Zarathustra," ripped open his shirt revealing "I QUIT!" written on his chest, and leaving to the end of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" while being chased out of the building (and through the parking lot) by security:
"What have we learned today, boys and girls? Boys and girls, we have learned that that bridge has officially been burned."
Everyman HYBRID: The boys break Damsel out of the institution, but are caught by a security guard. Jeff bodily tackles him to give the others time to run. As Evan says, "That escalated quickly."
"It's a bit late to hear this exactly from myself, isn't it?" This is the exact words from Frelean Maleau in the beginning of Chaos Fighters II-Chemical Siege after she confessed her love to Enrei before she dies.
Linkara at the very start of his review of Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu.
"Missingno.]'s a legend in game glitches and in particular Pokemon history...and apparently in some parallel universe, it spawned off into some kind of outer god that intends to consume and absorb all reality in every dimension. And it's also standing outside my door. Yeah, it's been a bit of a day."
In the 200th episode, this happens:
Linkara: If there’s a single story that has hung over this show since the first episode, it’s One More Day.
(This is followed by nineteen clips of Linkara referencing/talking/complaining/raging about One More Day, which wraps up with him looking at an image of the book and growling ”I hate you!”)
Linkara: Yeah, I think I might have brought it up once or twice.
Whateley Universe story "Ayla and the Mad Scientist": Ayla is warning Lancer to keep Generator from getting sucked into a gravitational singularity and being horribly killed.
"Someone has to count the votes, and The Delightful Children promised me a slice of their birthday cake next year if I... fudged the results a little."
"Fudged!? They weren't even on the ballot!"
One episode of Re Boot has all of Mainframe infected with a bug that turns everyone and everything to stone; that is, except for Hexidecimal's lair, since it was her bug to begin with. Bob, the only one immune to the bug, storms Hexidecimal's lair and, via zipline, kicks her right out of her throne.
Hexidecimal:"Funny. I sense a presence."
A meta-example from Adventure Time, if the storyboard writers are any indication: "The Lich King is Not Funny"
Raven: Let's just say I have issues with my father.
Pinocchio: In response to Monstro's totally gigantic sneeze...
Jiminy Cricket: Gesundheit!
During a foreign trip in 1958, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan referred to an incident as a "little local difficulty". The incident was the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and two other finance ministers. Such high level resignations could have been enough to bring down his government.
On the return journey from the South Pole in Captain Scott's expedition, Captain Oates was injured so decided to commit suicide to give his companions more chance. Suicide was - genuinely - easy, since he just had to leave the tent and quickly die of exposure. He announced his intentions with the words "I am just going outside and may be some time."
Captain Eric Moody on BA Flight 009 said. ''Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem." He then went on to explain that the problem was "All four engines have stopped." Fortunately his efforts to save the flight met with some measure of success. Some years later he remarked that "It was, yeah, a little bit frightening." He isn't the only one, either. All airline pilots are told not to talk to the passengers about an emergency unless they know they can sound perfectly calm.
When Australian Olympian Janine Shepherd appeared on TED talks she spoke about how her life changed after being hit by a truck during a bike ride, after cataloguing her injuries, including her spine being broken in six places she concludes: "I was having a really bad day"