Literary Devices: Hyperbole
Use with deliberate purpose & obvious intent for emphasis, dramatic effect, or humor.
Here’s the headline: Hyperboles (hi-PER-bow-lees) are the best, greatest, most-wonderful, super-duper way to get a reader’s attention!
Short version: Extravagant exaggeration stretches the truth to the breaking point—and sometimes beyond. That’s hyperbole, all right … Use it with deliberate purpose and obvious intent for emphasis, dramatic effect, or humor.
I’m Jim Lamb—let’s get started . . .
Years ago, when my son was young, he asked, “Dad, what does the word hyperbole mean?”
I stopped what I was doing, turned to him, and yelled, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times: ‘Don’t bother me when I’m writing!’ ”
He looked at me, stunned—jaw-dropped, eyes wide-open.
Then I smiled and said, “That, my boy, is hi-per-bow-lee.”
But, seriously, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (yes, there is such a thing) hyperbole is “a throwing beyond,” from a combination of hyper, which means “beyond,” and bole—“a throwing, a casting, the stroke of a missile, bolt, beam.” So, next time you’re watching a ball game and the pitcher (or quarterback) tosses it a mile over his/her target, you can describe what they’re doin’ as hyper-ballin’—and you'd be right.
Now let’s look at a literary example of this handy literary device from the opening of the classic tall-tale “Babe the Blue Ox”:
“… 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 sun-up to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”
Love that. Especially the part about the fish moving south. Why? Because I live in Florida, and I like to fish.
Hey, fish! Come on down!
Shakespeare knew how to use hyperbole better than most. Here’s a sample from “Macbeth.”
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”
Wow! That’s a lot of blood! A ton. A bunch. Oodles—and ever more water.
How about you? Have you heard these hyperboles?
I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
I have a ton of homework.
My sister has a million pair of shoes?
I’m starving to death!
He’s older than dirt.
She’s got gobs of money.
His brain is the size of a peanut.
Her eyes were wide as saucers.
You missed it by a mile.
I can’t do anything right!
He’s dumb as a bag of rocks.
She looks like a million dollars.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen you.
I can smell pizza a mile away.
My Dad knows everything about cars.
She has a heart of gold.
My Mom’s going to kill me!
These phrases grab attention. Create an amusing effect. Make a point. That’s what hyperboles do. No surprise, then, that they show up in advertising …
When I was a kid, there was a brand of gasoline that: “Put a tiger in your tank.”
There was another tiger that pitched Frosted Flakes by saying, “They’re great!”
Want more? (Of course, you do!)
On TV …
… there’s a fluffy pink bunny-rabbit that sells a battery brand that “keeps going and going and going . . .”
… an insurance company whose service is “so easy a caveman can do it.”
… a theme park that’s the “happiest place on earth.”
… an energy drink that “gives you wings.”
“Hello? Southwest? Cancel my flight. I’m going to fly myself to Orlando and get happy.”
Speaking of getting happy, we’ve got to wrap this up. Why? Because I have a million things to do … a bottomless pit of things. So many they could choke a horse!
I’m Jim Lamb—and you’ve just learned a little somethin’-somethin’ about hyperboles.
© 2019 j.s.lamb