Use of the phrase "Not Unlike"

I was reading some old Peanuts comic strips from the books they are putting out.

Anyway I noticed Charles Schulz often uses the phrase “not unlike.” For instance Linus says “that’s not unlike drinking diluted root beer.”

Is there any reason for this? Why can’t you just say “it’s LIKE drinking diluted root beer.”

Was the negative form popular then, or perhaps it was something Schulz just did.

Well, this is wild speculation on my part, but…

Schultz was pretty good at writing children.

Linus is supposed to be smart, but still a child.

A double negitive is poor grammer - perhaps Schultz was having Linus speak in a ‘smart grown-up’ way, while still making a mistake that a child would make.

However, like I said, this is a big fat guess.


edit: Actually, I’m not 100% sure “not unlike” is litotes, but it’s the same general idea. But I’ve always thought of that phrase as litotes.

It’s a figure of speech known as litotes. Such usage is not uncommon.

Ack. Missed the second edit window. Actually, it definitely is Litotes, and I see Peter Morris does not disagree.

One of the axioms of communication is that we are not deliberately wasting each other’s time. So if I use extra words or a double negative when a positive would work, then you can rightly assume there is extra meaning in there. Another example can be found in professional references. If you ask me if Steve is a good worker, and I say he’s a great family man who is fun to have around, I’m answering your question by not answering your question.

And the link I used is not dissimilar to yours.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t disagree with this. Nor would it be true that your spelling is not below par.

My spelling is well below par (I actually have a learning disability - yes, I know I should cut and past to Word to spell check - usually I do), and as I said, my post was a wild ass guess and perhaps not for GQ. I’m glad that other posters were able to answer the OP.

I still think that Schultz tried to make Linus sound like a little kid trying to talk grown up. Others are free to disagree.

Because there is a subtle difference in meaning. It’s not like drinking diluted root beer at all. “Not unlike” implies a similarity, but not a correspondence. Another way of saying it is “it’s sort of like drinking diluted root beer,” which is difference in nuance.

Litotes is a form of understatement. It is often used by people who are trying to avoid an outright statement. To say that X is “not unlike” Y implies that it’s very similar, but the speaker doesn’t want to commit himself to a statement that it’s exactly the same.

Actually, litotes carries a slight and specialized connotation, a nuanced distinction that is often pf value in conveying a precise meaning. Compare “He was willing to go” with “He was not unwilling to go”; do you see the slight reluctance overcome in the latter?

Litotes is a less imprecise way of conveying these fine nuances than a direct phrasing.