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What’s a Hyperbole? (Definition & Examples)

What's a hyperbole?

What’s a hyperbole?

What’s in your purse, a truckload of bricks?”

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

Derived from the Greek word hyperballein, meaning “to exceed,” a hyperbole (pronounced like hyperbowley) is a literary device and figure of speech that uses exaggeration or overstatements to further emphasize the dramatic impact of what’s being said or done.

Meaning of the word “hyperbole”

The dictionary defines a hyperbole as an “obvious or intentional exaggeration”, and/or “an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”(The Online Dictionary, hyperbole).

Think of hyperboles as comments that’ve been intentionally stretched or exaggerated to the point where it can’t be literal but is more so meant emphatically. An example is if someone who is extremely hungry says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse“, they probably don’t mean they could eat an actual horse, since that’s roughly 360 pounds of meat.

Example of hyperbole; i.e., an overstatement.

Rather, when someone uses the common hyperbolic phrase, that they could “eat a horse”, it’s a figurative way to state emphatically that they’re really hungry and want to eat. Anyone can simply say that they’re hungry, but if you want to deliver the point with more punch (some may say flair or personality), hyperboles are an excellent way of accomplishing this goal. Hyperboles create vivid imagery, provoke strong emotions, or add a touch of drama to the language, and are used all the time, from literature and poetry to everyday conversations.

Examples of hyperboles

  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

This classic example vividly illustrates extreme hunger, emphasizing the speaker’s intense appetite without actually suggesting they would consume an entire horse.

  • She’s as old as the hills.

In this case, the hyperbole emphasizes the person’s advanced age, comparing it to something timeless and ancient to convey a sense of exaggeration.

  • The suitcase weighed felt like a ton of bricks.

This hyperbolic expression communicates the speaker’s struggle with a heavy suitcase by amplifying the weight to an unrealistic extent, adding humour and emphasis.

  • I’ve told you a million times to clean your room!

This common parental plea uses hyperbole to convey frustration and exaggerate the frequency of the request, emphasizing the speaker’s exasperation.

  • His snoring could wake the dead.

This hyperbolic statement emphasizes the loudness of the snoring by suggesting it has the power to awaken even those who are no longer among the living, creating a vivid mental image.

Why we use hyperboles

  1. To add emphasis:
    • Hyperbole is a powerful tool for drawing attention to a particular point or emotion by magnifying its intensity. It can make statements more memorable and impactful.

  2. Humor:
    • Often employed in comedic contexts, hyperbole adds a layer of humor by stretching the truth to absurd proportions, inviting laughter and engagement.

  3. Expression of Emotion:
    • When conventional language falls short in expressing strong emotions, hyperbole steps in to amplify feelings and create a more profound impact on the audience.

  4. Imagery:
    • Hyperbole paints vivid mental pictures, allowing the audience to visualize scenarios in an exaggerated manner, enhancing the overall sensory experience of communication.

Synonyms of hyperbole

  • Exaggeration
  • Embellishment
  • Enlargement
  • Overstatement
  • Hype
  • Magnification
  • Distortion
  • Amplification
  • Colouring

In review: hyperbole

From ancient Greek rhetoric to contemporary everyday conversations, hyperbole continues to be a dynamic linguistic tool that adds flair, emphasis, and humour to our communication. So, the next time someone claims to be as busy as a bee or insists they’ve seen a million shooting stars, remember the magic of hyperbole—the art of stretching reality for the sake of expression.

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