H is for Hyperbole

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Hyperbole is a purposeful exaggeration. It can be used in speech, advertising, or as a literary device. Although not to be interpreted literally, hyperbole can be used to evoke strong feelings or create impressions. It is a way to describe something as better or worse than it is or was.

“I’m dying of shame,” Lucy Maud Montgomery had her hero, Anne of Green Gables exclaim. Certainly it is a sentiment echoed by Amy in “Little Women.” Any teenager can doubtless identify with the melodrama inherit in hyperbole.

“It’s been ages since I’ve seen you,” someone might say not because ages truly passed but instead to convey how much they missed their acquaintance. Hyperbole is often used in poetry. For example, “I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you/ ‘till China and Africa meet…” Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Macbeth, suffers a hyperbole-laced monologue about his guilty feelings.

In marketing, a shop might advertise platters piled miles high, which is perfect if you’re hungry enough to eat a horse. Folk tales such as Paul Bunyon use hyperbolic statements to produce humorous effects.

Many hyperboles are cliché, but the rhetorical device has been around for generations. The word derives from ancient Greek and means “over-casting.”

Another couple of examples from literature of hyperbole are as follows: “…but these (sobs) were so loud that they could be heard by the faraway hills…” C. Colloid’s “Adventures of Pinocchio. “I had to wait in the station for ten days- an eternity,” Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness.”