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Hyperbole (//) is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. In rhetoric, it is also sometimes known as auxesis (literally 'growth'). In poetry and oratory, it emphasizes, evokes strong feelings, and creates strong impressions. As a figure of speech, it is usually not meant to be taken literally.
'Hype' is a shortened version.
Hyperbole is often used for emphasis or effect. In casual speech, it functions as an intensifier: saying "the bag weighed a ton" simply means that the bag was extremely heavy. The rhetorical device may be used for serious or ironic or comic effects. Understanding hyperbole and its use in context can help understand the speaker's point. Hyperbole generally conveys feelings or emotions from the speaker, or from those who the speaker may talk about. It can be used in a form of humor, excitement, distress, and many other emotions, all depending on the context in which the speaker uses it.
In popular culture
Hyperbole is one of the most widely recognized and used forms of figurative language in everyday life. It is used heavily in advertising and entertainment. Advertisers use hyperbole to exaggerate the benefits of products to boost sales. Repetitive hyperbole is used in public relations to increase the popularity of a person or product. It is also used in propaganda, giving it a bad reputation.
Hyperbole has been used throughout literature for many centuries. Heroic dramas, which are dramas with an emphasis on grandeur and excess, often make use of hyperbole to extend the effect and epic nature of the genre. Modern tall tales also make use of hyperbole to exaggerate the feats and characteristics of their protagonists. For example, the American tall tale about Paul Bunyan relies heavily on hyperbole to establish Bunyan's giant stature and abilities.
For hyperbole to be effective it needs to be obvious, deliberate, and outlandish. Using hyperbolic speech as a character trait can denote an unreliable narrator.
Emerson's Concord Hymn uses hyperbole in the lines "Here once the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world."
In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the protagonist emerges from his shelter to find total destruction, and makes the hyperbolic statement that "Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals." The hyperbole conveys how completely the city was ruined.
Hyperbole can also be used in a comically ironic fashion to make a serious statement. In the Gospel of Matthew in the Christian bible, the writer advocates cutting off the right hand or plucking out the right eye to avoid a far more egregious fate.
One of the most frequently used hyperboles in English is the word literally. It became controversial issue when people began to use literally to mean figuratively (the exact opposite). Many dictionaries now document the meaning as "to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling". Hence, literally has become one of the primary ways to exaggerate and hyperbolize a statement.
- 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.
- She's as blind as a bat.
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- Matthew 5: 29, 30
- James L. Resseguie, Narrative Criticism of the New Testament: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 62.
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- Examples of hyperbole in poetry
- Definition and Examples of Hyperbole
- Ritter, Joshua. "Recovering Hyperbole: Re-Imagining the Limits of Rhetoric for an age of Excess". scholarworks.gsu.edu. Georgia State University.
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