Tuesday Terminology: Hyperbole

It’s no exaggeration to say that the hyperbole is a useful literary device. Well—then again—a hyperbole is an exaggeration, but it’s more than simply stretching the truth. To really get good mileage out of this figure of speech, you have to go extravagant for a particular reason.

For example, this is not a hyperbole:

The fish was a good 15 inches long—maybe 20.

Instead, this is simply something guys like to tell each other. A hyperbole, on the other hand, requires vivid language in a setting or about a character that elicits such astounding language—whether deserved or not. Imagine a tragic hero in his final hour saying this:

When this tempest tears apart the world and shreds the edges of the sky, I’ll finish raging and sleep so deeply nothing will rouse me again.

Because of the dramatic flourish, hyperbole is often reserved for drama or other elevated writing styles (Shakespeare and Keats were both excellent masters of the device). But it can also be quite useful for humor. In fact, much of the humor in movies and comedies is hyperbole (in the dialog or action)—think Mel Brooks.

Any examples that come to mind?


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