A hyperbole is a figure of speech. Figures of speech are rhetorical constructions that are to be taken non-literally. This rhetorical device is used to make a point in an emotional fashion or to make a point in a more vivid fashion in figurative language. Hyperbole is pronounced high-PER-bo-lee, and is one of many literary devices such as an idiom, a paradox, an oxymoron, and similes and metaphors. We will examine what a hyperbole is with some examples, and where the word hyperbole came from.
A hyperbole is a figure of speech that is an exaggeration used to emphasize a point or create a strong feeling in the reader or listener.
Hyperbole is often used in poetry:
“And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry. Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, And the rocks melt wi’ the sun: O I will love thee still, my dear, While the sands o’ life shall run.”–A Red, Red, Rose by Robert Burns.
“I cannot go to school today,/Said little Peggy Ann McKay./”I have the measles and the mumps, /A gash, a rash and purple bumps./ My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,/I’m going blind in my right eye.”–Sick by Shel Silverstein
“There is no world without Verona walls, / But purgatory, torture, hell itself.” —Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”–The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
“I’d walk a mile for a Camel.”–slogan for Camel cigarettes, 1960s
“Mints so strong they come in a metal box.”–slogan for Altoids, current
“He’s dumber than a box of hair.”
“She’s so skinny she hula hoops with a Cheerio.”
Notice that in all the above examples the ideas or degree of something is ridiculously inflated. Hyperbole is usually easy to spot, as the literal meaning is often impossible. Hyperbole is not limited to poetry, literature or advertising. People often speak in hyperbolic terms in everyday language.
“My purse weighs a ton.”
“My feet are on fire.”
“My dad’s going to kill me.”
Note that in the above examples, none of these things are true. These figures of speech are used to convey the emotion behind the fact.
The word hyperbole is derived from the Greek word hyperbole which means extravagance, exaggeration, throwing beyond.