I mean that the word used is too light or too subtle to describe the gravity of the situation?

For example (an artificial example): the tsunami starts, the incredibly big waves are coming to the shore and the person says "Such big waves!" But in reality "big" is too light to describe the tsunami. The word must be more exaggerating. So I want to say something like: "You chose the word 'big', but it is too light to describe it" or "It's not the right word". or "It's not the word". How to say it in a more compact form? I tried to say "It's not the word" but only a few people understood me.

9 Answers 9


In some contexts, the word you're looking for is "understatement".

When done intentionally, it could be "irony".

Try this: "Big? That's an understatment!"

Irony: "I have a flight booked from NY to London. I get nervous flying over the big pond." (Atlantic Ocean)


Rather than It's not the word, try

That's hardly the word!

Amusingly, this idiomatic use of hardly itself suffers from the very same problem of understatement. But in this case, understatement in the English way of understatement, not the "big waves" way. You can use it almost anywhere:

  • You realize you've left something unimportant behind: I'm hardly going to drive 100 miles just for that.

  • Someone makes a feeble excuse: That's hardly the point.


'misnomer'--an inappropriate name for a thing or an inappropriate designation (Merriam-Webster).


As well as understatement, mentioned by TecBrat, you could also use downplay.

You downplayed it.


downplay (ˈdaʊnˌpleɪ) vb 1. (tr) to play down; make little of


Your example is flawed because "big" is limitless in English. While in many cases people might use "big" as a standard word and more fancy words like "gigantic" to describe something that's extremely big, ultimately big and gigantic are synonomous. Montana is called the Big Sky Country, and the sky is pretty freaking big. The tallest mountain in the world is a big mountain. The Nile is a big river. There's nothing inaccurate or needing improvement about calling a Tsunami a big wave. The reason only a few people understood you is that you were trying to express a sentiment that was inaccurate in relation to the word "big". You wanted to say that the word "big" was not enough and another word should be used instead but there is no other word that means anything bigger than "big".

When people want to convey the sentiment you seem to be reaching for, the most common expression that is logical for the language is "there are no words to describe it" or "there are no words" or just "no words".

You tried to say that "big" was inadequate and another word should be used instead, but few people understood you because logically there is no other word that means something bigger. If, instead, you had used the "there are no words" expression meaning big is inadequate and there is no word in English that properly describes the enormity of the Tsunami, that makes more sense and everyone should understand you clearly.

  • Quite. After all, there isn't really anything bigger than the Big Bang. Jul 31, 2014 at 20:04
  • There is a difference between definition and connotation. "big" by itself can mean gigantic, but it also works in contrast. "There are big waves in Hawaii, but a tsunami is [gigantic/enormous]!"
    – TecBrat
    Jul 31, 2014 at 20:44
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    @FumbleFingers But the universe was infinitesimally tiny then! So, arguably, there was nothing smaller. ;-) Jul 31, 2014 at 22:09
  • @David: As I understand the Universe is a Free Lunch theorists, the universe arises out of a single quantum fluctuation. Which might not have happened (except for the obvious fact that it did). Whatever - the difference between nothing happening (zero), and something happening (any number above zero) is infinite. Jul 31, 2014 at 22:25

This is an euphemism: (said to underline the fact that the word or expression used is too mild with respect to the situation described).

  • the substitution of a mild or indirect expression for one thought to be offensive or blunt.

  • Euphemism is an idiomatic expression which loses its literal meanings and refers to something else in order to hide its unpleasantness. For example, “kick the bucket” is a euphemism that describes the death of a person. In addition, many organizations use the term “downsizing” for the distressing act of “firing” its employees.



Consider "inadequate". In your case "big" is inadequate or insufficient to capture the emotion and size of the event.

Also consider "lacking", "make light of", or "discredit".


In this case, it's an understatement. If that's not enough, though, you might say, "Understatement of the year!" For a more general case where a word is nearly correct, you might say you're "near the mark" or, "close, but no cigar."


You can say that again!

In general, this is used to emphasize what someone else has said.

  • 4
    If I understand you correctly, this is roughly the opposite of what the asker is looking for.
    – phenry
    Jul 31, 2014 at 22:02
  • 1
    @phenry, You can say that again! Jul 31, 2014 at 23:58

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