Hyperbole (/haɪˈpɜːrbəli/), or the adjective hyperbolic (US/NAE /ˌhaɪpərˈbalɪk/, UK /ˌhaɪpərˈbɒlɪk/) refers to an obvious exaggeration. Hyperbole involves the use of exaggeration for emphasis, to intensify menaing, or for emotional effect, or as a rhetorical device or a figure of speech. In literature, especially in poetry and oratory, it is used for emphasis, to evoke stronger feelings or reactions, and to create strong impressions. When used properly, hyperbole is generally understood by listeners as a figure of speech, and is usually not meant to be understood literally. The term 'hyperbole' derives from Ancient Greek (ὑπερβολή 'huperbolḗ' to exceed, from ὑπέρ 'hupér' above, beyond and βάλλω 'bállō' throw.
1 In literature and media
Hyperbole is a classsic literary device. It is used in ancient heroic dramas, for example, to emphasize greatness, grandeur, or excess, for example, when a character is described as so beautiful that her face could launch one thousand ships. Modern tall tales (as in earlier US culture) also use hyperbole to exaggerate the feats and characteristics of their protagonists, such as when the American tall tale about Paul Bunyan often uses hyperbole to establish Bunyan's giant stature and great physical abilities. Literary hyperbole is generally effective when it can be recognized as obvious, deliberate, or outlandish. Hyperbole appears in these lyrics to an old ballad, The Ballad of Davy Crockett by Thomas W. Blackburn:
Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so he knew ev’ry tree
Kilt [Killed] him a bear when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier
The same holds for hyperbole in other forms of fiction, such as in the film Titanic, when Jake stands at the front of the ship and shouts, “I’m king of the world!” Hyperbole can be used in comedy, when a description or response seems humorously exaggerated. Hyperbole is commonly used in popular songs.
- “Now there's just no chance/ with you and me/ there'll never be/ don't it make you sad about it?/ Cry me a river/ Cry me a river” - Cry Me a River, Justin Timberlake
- “I would fly to the moon and back/ if you'll be If you'll be my baby/ Got a ticket for a world where/ we belong/ So would you be my baby” - To the Moon and Back, Savage Garden
- "But I would walk 500 miles/ And I would walk 500 more/ Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles/ to fall down at your door” - I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), The Proclaimers
1.1 In comedy
Hyperbole is regularly used in commedy, especially when the exaggeration seems outlandish, or greatly emphasizes a humorous point. For example:
- When a comedian describes a politician as "dumber than a bag of rocks".
- When sarcastically responding to a joke that failed, one could say, "Oh, gee, you're killing me!"
2 In everyday English
Hyperbole is used in a number of common expressions and familiar phrases such as these.
- He was so angry, I thought he was going to kill somebody.
- She had a thousand missed calls.
- I was so embarrassed, I wanted to die.
- I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
- She's as old as the hills.
- I walked a million miles to get here.
- She can hear a pin drop a mile away.
- I died of embarrassment.
- He's as skinny as a toothpick.
- She's as tall as a beanpole.
- It's raining cats and dogs.
- My feet are killing me
- That plane ride took forever
- This is the best book ever written
- I love you to the moon and back
- I've told you this a thousand times
- She can hear a pin drop a mile away.
- His brain’s the size of a pea.
- New York is the city that never sleeps.
- I have a ton of papers to grade.
- That runner’s faster than lightning.
- My parents are going to kill me when they find out.
- That was the easiest quiz in the world.
- I’m dying of hunger.
- That documentary went on forever.
- Our car cost us an arm and a leg.
- It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.
- She was so mad she was spitting bullets.
- I’m so excited, I could die!
- She knocked it out of the park with that speech.
- He has the memory of an elephant.
- He’s high as a kite.
- It took forever to find you.
- I had to walk to the ends of the Earth to find it!
- I can’t live without you.
- I’m thirsty as a camel.
- I got my math test back and it was dipped in blood.
- I love you to the moon and back.
- She walks as slow as a turtle.
- It’s a jungle out there.
- I haven’t seen them in ages.
- I thought that lecture would never end.
- It’s been raining for 40 days and 40 nights.
- She eats like a bird.
- That turkey could feed an army!
- He runs like the wind!
- It’s the worst day of my entire life!
- I’ve seen that movie a thousand times.
- This town is dry as a desert.
- We’re never gonna get there!
- I’m drowning in work.
- He talks a mile a minute.
- I'm so tired I could sleep for a million years.
- It’s all fake news!
- The whole world is going to hell in a handbasket.
- It was so cold; I saw polar bears wearing hats and jackets.
- She’s so dumb; she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company
- I have a million things to do today.
- When I was young, I had to walk 15 miles to school uphill, in the snow.
- If I can’t buy the perfect dress, I’ll die!
- The car went faster than the speed of light.
- His new car cost a zillion dollars.
- We’re so poor we don’t have two cents to rub together.
- That joke is so old; the last time I heard it, I was riding a dinosaur.
- He's got tons of money.
- You could have knocked me over with a feather.
3 In advertizing
Hyperbole can be used in advertising. However, some advertizing claims seem so exaggerated that they may come across as insincere or dishonest. Thus, in colloquial English, hyperbole has been shorted to hype, with the meaning of exaggerated promotion or self-promotion that is excessive, questionable, or insincere. Some common advertizing phrases that may seem like hype are:
- It doesn't get better than this. (e.g., Oscar Meyer)
- The best a man can get. (Gillette)
- Mints so strong they come in a metal box. (Altoids)
- I am "the man your man could smell like" if you get your man to use this product (Old Spice)
- The world's best coffee
- If you vote for me, I'll put a car in every garage.