What Is Hyperbole? Definition of Hyperbole With Examples
Hyperbole is more common than many English speakers realize. The hyperbole is used to exaggerate a truth or point to place more emphasis on the clause or sentence.
What is Hyperbole?
Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to emphasize a statement.
The word hyperbole comes from a Greek word meaning “excess.”
Hyperbole is generally used by authors for 3 main reasons:
- To exaggerate a point
- To grab the reader's attention
- As a symbol to illustrate a specific idea
Authors often use hyperboles to exaggerate a point, such as love.
W.H. Auden addresses a lover in the poem, "As I Walked Out One Evening:" "I'll love you, dear ... until the salmon sing in the street." This type of exaggeration is hyperbole combined with the literary concept symbolism. Salmon will not sing in the street, but the line symbolizes a love that will never end.
Grab a Reader's Attention
Hyperbole is commonly used to grab a reader's attention within literary terms. The media is notorious for using hyperboles in print advertising to grab attention.
A product claims to add "mirror-like luster." This term is a hyperbole. The intelligent consumer understands the term "mirror-like" is exaggerated, though the term effectively grabs the attention of the intended audience.
Hyperbole as a Symbol
The hyperbole as a symbol is used often in conversation to emphasize a point.
The phrase found on YourDictionary.com, "It's a slow burg. I spent a couple of weeks there one day" is a symbolic hyperbole used to illustrate the speed of a city. The city was slow, with not much happening, so one day felt like a few weeks to the speaker. Hyperbole is commonly used in conjunction with symbolism.
The word "literally"
One of the most commonly used hyperboles is the word "literally." People often use "literally" to mean "figuratively," which are actually exact opposites. Many dictionaries now list the meaning of the word as "to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling".
For example, someone may say she has "a million things to do" today. The person does not literally have a million things to do. She has many things to do, perhaps a dozen, but she uses the "million" hyperbole to emphasize how busy she will be.
The literary concept of comedy is often enhanced by hyperbole, especially when writing for children. In Shel Silverstein's poem, "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out," Silverstein writes that "the garbage reached across the state." This hyperbole will make children, and perhaps some adults, chuckle at the thought of one household's worth of garbage reaching across a land mass as big as a state.
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