Hyperbole Persuasion

Carlos Arguello

I would like to begin by thanking my friends and family as well as my teachers for shaping me. Because of you, I am confident in my abilities to defend my beliefs.

Keynotes: Hyperbole, Exaggeration, Power, Society, Trump

Hyperboles have the power to create a massive effect on listeners in a multitude of ways. The power of hyperbole stems from how the listener is able to understand the magnitude of what the speaker tries to convey through exaggeration. Hyperbole and its ability to impact the audience in question is a manner of speech that has had a great impact on American society, especially with regards to political rhetoric. To understand the power of hyperbole, it is imperative to know what it entails. According to the Oxford Dictionary, hyperbole is defined as “a way of speaking or writing that makes something sound better, more exciting, more dangerous, etc. than it really is.” The term in a rhetorical sense is a form of figurative language where exaggeration is used to create a heightened effect of importance on the audience. A key part of the definition of hyperbole stems from the fact that there is the chance that something can be portrayed as more dangerous by virtue of hyperbole usage. However, hyperboles do not have this specific aspect in all their usages. While there can be a sense of danger when hyperboles are misused, there is a beauty in the usage of this rhetorical device that comes from the power it possesses over the audience. With that said, it is evident that hyperboles have a great impact that can persuade a multitude of people instead of inciting fear within them. A great example of the power that hyperbole can have in persuasive speech is apparent in the speeches of the 45th President of the United States of America Donald J. Trump used what scholars have described as “truthful hyperbole,” which demonstrated the power through exaggeration, a critical aspect of hyperbole.

The art of hyperbole lies in its ability to exaggerate the matter at hand. At the same time, hyperbole uses this exaggeration effectively to help the listener understand the magnitude of a statement in a matter that is more relatable to the audience (Claridge 2011). There are many ways that this can be achieved, and one way that is advantageous to the speaker is by the uncertainty that comes with hyperbole. Building on this, “many hyperbolic expressions are characterized by a certain vagueness”, and an example of this exists in how “when expressions such as ‘age’ or ‘load’ or ‘million’ are used hyperbolically, they do not refer to an exact amount” (Henkemans 4). Through the utilization of hyperbole, the speaker places themselves at an advantage due to this vagueness helping them get their desired point across. Additionally, hyperboles have a strong role in argumentative aspects. In many arguments, persuasion is an extremely important point that works to get critical points across (Nemesi).

Hyperbole and similar rhetorical forms of amplification are viewed as “techniques that can be used to exaggerate certain facts or value judgments and thereby strengthen the arguer’s defense or attack” (Henkemans 4). Through these arguments, the speaker can make their line of argument “more psychologically salient to the audience and more conceptually important in the overall case” (Claridge 105). With regards to the power of this argument in the political sphere, hyperbole has great power in trying to get a message across to the audience in question as the rhetorical figure can be utilized to make an argument more “psychologically salient to the audience and more conceptually important in the overall case” (Claridge 105). At the same time, hyperbole possesses a rare ability to have great power in argument as well due to its added importance and remembrance in the eyes of the audience at hand. This is possible due to the relatable aspects that come from the expression utilized. Donald Trump’s usage of hyperbole in political speeches as part of the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election truly demonstrated how hyperbole has the potential to make the greatest and most intricate of matters demonstrable to any audience at hand.

In comparison to his competition for this election, Donald Trump was at a great disadvantage. He lacked the political experience compared to other candidates such as Hillary Clinton while also being notorious in the public eye for his past as a television personality and real estate mogul. However, Trump utilized hyperbole in a way that helped portray the power of America and the ability for the country to rebound from the previous presidency. This aligned with his slogan to “Make America Great Again.” In one of his speeches, Trump criticized the Obama administration by stating that the United States of America “[has] all the cards, but we don’t know how to use them. We don’t even know that we have the cards, because our leaders don’t understand the game” (Trump 2016). Through this exaggeration comparing foreign policy to a game of cards, Trump makes it abundantly clear that the United States of America is still a powerful country with regard to the influence it holds over other countries. At the same time, he utilizes persuasive hyperbole to indicate that this complicated matter that is foreign policy is a field that America can succeed in. He also diminishes his opponents and predecessors by indicating that they have failed in this regard and in turn made the country weaker due to their inability to understand the game at hand. Another way that Trump successfully utilized persuasive hyperbole came from his ability to emphasize that he would be an agent of change who would bring America back to its glory days.

In his speeches, Trump made it clear that he would be “America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion” as well as how he is “the change agent” as opposed to his opponent Clinton who had “failed women and children” and “never done anything for you and your family” (Trump 2016). In these excerpts, Trump persuades the audience with the exaggeration that he is someone who will truly be the representation of change in this country. He represents himself in a manner that makes him an individual who will bring about significant change to a country which has been lagging due to the decisions of previous administrations. He makes up for his lack of political experience by using hyperbole to his advantage. The way he achieves this is by making it clear to the audience that he is not like other politicians and is truly a mystical agent of change. At the same time, he dissuades the audience from trusting his opponent Clinton under the pretense that she has failed everyone and their families while bringing an emotional aspect through the acknowledgment of women and children in particular. Through these speeches, Trump successfully used hyperbole to exaggerate the situations that America was in due to previous politicians while also making it apparent that he would be an individual that can relate to the common man. This was successful as he was able to win the election and become the 45th President of the United States of America. Just as former President Donald Trump would use hyperbole to his advantage, so would I. As a teenager in high school, I would often use amplified exaggeration to convince my parents in favor of what I was seeking. This form of discourse was very powerful and I believe that it had an impact on my upbringing to a certain extent. This exaggerated speech influenced my parents’ decision to get me my first car, determined what I would be allowed to do on weekends and most importantly attending a private university over a state college.

As seen in the 2016 presidential elections and through my own personal experiences, the use of hyperbole is effective and is a powerful rhetorical device. Trump, rather than speaking of the pessimistic and poor aspect of the nation, the former President would speak on how he would alleviate the situation and make “America Great Again” (Flitter, Oliphant et al, 2015). Through Trump’s usage of hyperbole, he truly showed the power that comes from exaggeration, a key aspect of hyperbole. At the same time, he simplified extremely difficult-to-understand matters in a way that the audience of interest could understand and relate to. As a result, his words resonated in a matter that led to him becoming the most powerful individual in the world.

Works Cited

Claridge, C. (2011). Hyperbole in English. A corpus-based study of exaggeration. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Flitter, Emily, and James Oliphant. “Best President Ever! How Trump’s Love of Hyperbole

Could Backfire.” Reuters, 28 Aug. 2015. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-hyperbole-insight-idUSKCN0QX1 1X20150828.

Henkemans, A. “The use of hyperbole in the argumentation stage.” (2013).

Nemesi, Attila L. “What Discourse Goals Can Be Accomplished by the Use of Hperbole?” Acta Linguistica Hungarica, vol. 51, no. 3–4, Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004, pp. 351–78, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26189846.

Swain, C. M. (2017, January 23). How Donald Trump Can be America’s Change Agent. CNN.

Retrieved November 26, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/opinions/trump-change-agent-swain-opinion/index.htm l.

Trump, Donald “Remarks to the Detroit Economic Club” August 8, 2016.


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Carlos Arguello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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