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Hyperbole (/hˈpɜːrbəli/ ; adj. hyperbolic /ˌhpərˈbɒlɪk/ ) 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.[1][2]


'Hyperbole' is derived from the Ancient Greek: ὑπερβολή huperbolḗ by way of Latin. The word is composed from ὑπέρ hupér 'above, beyond' and βάλλω bállō 'throw'.

Unlike most English words beginning with hyper-, it is stressed on the second syllable. The first known use is in the 15th century.[3][4]


Hyperbole is often used for emphasis or effect. In casual speech, it functions as an intensifier:[5][3] saying "the bag weighed a ton"[6] simply means that the bag was extremely heavy.[7] The rhetorical device may be used for serious or ironic or comic effects.[8] 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.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[citation needed]

US case law[edit]

Rhetorical hyperbole is defined as "extravagant exaggeration employed for rhetorical effect" for First Amendment purposes. Greenbelt Cooperative Pub. Ass'n v. Bresler (1970), Letter Carriers v. Austin (1974) and Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1989) are notable cases. In Watts v. United States (1969) the defendant was absolved of federal anti-threat punishment for saying "the first person he would put in his scope is L.B.J."; the court found this to be "political hyperbole".[10]

In literature[edit]

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.[11]

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.


One of the most frequently used hyperboles in English is the word literally. It became a controversial issue when people began to use literally to mean figuratively (the exact opposite).[citation needed] 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.[12]

Common examples[edit]

  • 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.
  • I was so angry, I was steaming at the ears!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "hyperbole". Dictionary.com Unabridged (Online). n.d. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  2. ^ "Hyperbole". Harris Middle School. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
  3. ^ a b "Definition of HYPERBOLE". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  4. ^ Zafarris, Jess (2017-11-12). "The Etymology of "Hyperbole"". Useless Etymology. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  5. ^ "Definition of Hyperbole". Literary Devices. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  6. ^ Mahony, David (2003). Literacy Tests Year 7. Pascal Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-877-08536-9.
  7. ^ "Hyperbole". Byu.edu. Archived from the original on 17 July 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  8. ^ M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 11th ed. (Boston: Cengage, 2015), 169.
  9. ^ Johnson, Christopher. "The Rhetoric of Excess in Baroque Literature and Thought" (PDF). Scholar.harvard.edu. Harvard.
  10. ^ Hudson, David L. Jr. (14 April 2020). "Rhetorical Hyperbole". Middle Tennessee State University. The First Amendment Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ Leengen, Marcus (2019-11-26). "What is Hyperbole? 🕮 Hyperbole definition and meaning + examples". Figurative Language. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  12. ^ "Hyperbole Examples and Definition". Literary Devices. 2014-08-25. Retrieved 2020-09-18.

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