Hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used to make a point. It is like the opposite of “understatement.” It is from a Greek word meaning “excess.”
Hyperboles can be found in literature and oral communication. They would not be used in nonfiction works, like medical journals or research papers; but, they are perfect for fictional works, especially to add color to a character or humor to the story.
Hyperboles are comparisons, like similes and metaphors, but are extravagant and even ridiculous. They are not meant to be taken literally.
Hyperbole Adds Excitement and Fun
A boring story can come to life or become comical with the use of a hyperbole. Some commonly used examples of hyperbole include:
- I’ve told you a million times!
- It was so cold, I saw polar bears wearing jackets.
- She is so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company.
- I am so hungry I could eat a horse.
- I have a million things to do.
- I had to walk 15 miles to school in the snow, uphill.
- I had a ton of homework.
- If I can’t buy that new game, I will die!
- He is as skinny as a toothpick.
- This car goes faster than the speed of light.
- That new car costs a bazillion dollars.
- We are so poor; we don’t have two cents to rub together.
- That joke is so old, the last time I heard it I was riding on a dinosaur.
- They ran like greased lightning.
- He's got tons of money.
- You could have knocked me over with a feather.
- Her brain is the size of a pea.
- He is older than the hills.
Hyperbole in Media and Literature
If used properly, hyperbole can encourage consumers to buy products. There has been limited research into this area, but a 2007 study by Mark A. Callister PhD & Lesa A. Stern PhD, "The Role of Visual Hyperbole in Advertising Effectiveness" found that "hyperbolic ads produce more ad liking than nonhyperbolic ads".
Examples of hyperboles in advertising include:
- “adds amazing luster for infinite, mirror-like shine” (Brilliant Brunette shampoo)
- “It doesn't get better than this” (Oscar Meyer)
- "The best a man can get" (Gillette)
A great example of hyperbole in literature comes from Paul Bunyan’s opening remarks in the American folktale of Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox:
“Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”
Another example comes from the poem "As I Walked Out One Evening" by W.H. Auden:
"I'll love you, dear, I'll love you till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky."
Following are some short quotes from literature containing hyperboles:
- The skin on her face was as thin and drawn as tight as the skin of onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two picks. - Parker's Back, Flannery O'Connor
- It was not a mere man he was holding, but a giant; or a block of granite. The pull was unendurable. The pain unendurable. - A Boy and a Man, James Ramsey Ullman
- People moved slowly then. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
- It's a slow burg. I spent a couple of weeks there one day. - The People, Yes, Carl Sandberg
- Why does a boy who’s fast as a jet take all day and sometimes two to get to school? - Speed Adjustments, John Ciadri
Remember, hyperbole can be found in many sources, from poetry and plays to our everyday speech. Look for these fun comparisons and use hyperbole to add emphasis, feeling and humor into your writing!
Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.comments powered by
Examples of Hyperboles
By YourDictionaryHyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used to make a point. It is like the opposite of “understatement.” It is from a Greek word meaning “excess.”Hyperboles can be found in literature and oral communication. They would not be used in nonfiction works, like medical journals or research papers; but, they are perfect for fictional works, especially to add color to a character or humor to the story.Hyperboles are comparisons, like similes and metaphors, but are extravagant and even ridiculous. They are not meant to be taken literally.
by Sara Lundquist
First of all, read it over and over. Read it out loud. Then read it out loud again. Practice different ways of placing emphasis to get the most meaning. (Poetry is a spoken art; it needs the human voice, your voice, to really live.)
All of the following can be part of a written explication, depending on the poem. Let the poem dictate to you. The extra dimension of poetry is in its insistence that meaning cannot be divorced from form. The purpose of an explication is to show, for an individual poem, how this is true. Therefore an explication is a discussion of the art and craft of language. An explication shows how the form deepens the meaning of the content.
Look up anything you don’t understand: an unfamiliar word, a place, a person, a myth, an idea. Look up words you DO understand, to help you articulate connotations. Become a dictionary addict. Make friends with the OED.
- State, very literally and in one or two sentences, what the poem is about. What is the most obvious statement you can make about the situation that the poem concerns itself with? Do not scare yourself with “deep meaning”: start literally. Paraphrase the poem.
- What is the emotion of the poem? How does the speaker feel about what he/she is talking about? What can you infer about this speaker, what kind of person is he/she? Remember that because most poems are about human beings they are often expressions of complicated, mixed, and conflicting emotions; always try thinking in terms of both/and rather than either/or. To whom is the speaker talking: to him/herself? to someone else? How does the audience of the poem affect it?
- Look at the poem. Describe the form of the poem, the design it makes on the page. For instance, is it divided into stanzas? Does it have long or short lines, or irregular? How does the form contribute to the content? Is it an inherited form (sonnet, sestina, etc.) or an invented one?
- Listen to the sounds of the poem. Does it rhyme? Does it use alliteration (repetition of beginning consonant sounds)? Does it have an interesting rhythm? What do the words sound like? Are they smooth, or harsh, or lilting, or dull? Do they move quickly or slowly?
- How did the poet organize the poem, and why? Is it a question and an answer? Is it a story? Is it a list? Is it a conversation? Is it a description? Where (emotionally speaking) does the poem begin and where does it end? Be willing to be surprised. Things often happen in poems to turn them around. A poem may seem to suggest one thing at first, then persuade you of its opposite, or at least of a significant change or qualification. Discuss the “journey” the poem takes from beginning to end.
- Be very alert to word choice. Discuss the kinds of language the poet uses. Are they simple and everyday words? words from a particular occupation or walk of life? are they slang words? abstract? philosophical? from religion, or sports, or banking? from the world of nature or love or domestic life, or politics or painting or childhood or computers or psychology or law? From what “world” of experience does a group of words derive? Be alert to unusual words or usual words used in an unusual way. Try to say why this word is effective, what kind of very particular meaning it communicates, what it suggests. Try substituting a synonym of the word and explain to yourself why the poet’s choice serves his/her purpose better. Look up the word in the OED and find out how old it is, what kind of journey it has taken to get to this poem.
- Be alert to repetitions of any kind: a repeated word, a repeated sound, a repeated idea, punctuation, part-of-speech, syntactical arrangement. Since repetition always serves to emphasize, what is being emphasized and why?
- Figurative language: What metaphors, similes, images does the poem use? When and why does the speaker use them? Keep in mind that a poet uses figurative language when more literal ways of speaking seem inadequate or inappropriate. Discuss what further dimensions of human experience can be delved into when the literal gives way to the figurative. (note well: both metaphors and similes are essentially comparisons: say what is being compared to what and why.)
- Meter??? Do you want to deal with it?
- Theme: take a stab at the poem’s theme. A poem’s subject will be its wonderfully particular, local, personal concerns; its “theme” will be that part of it that communicates more widely, that tries to say a “truth.” Be careful that you don’t reduce the poem to a cliché. Don’t turn corny or glib. Good poems record hard-won and sometimes devastating “truths.” Reading them well makes us struggle to know, feel, and express those things about living that are not easy to know, feel, or express.
Here is some of the specialized vocabulary of your profession; extremely beautiful and useful words.