42 Hyperbole: It is Huge
To my parents, who have always pushed my siblings and I to be our best at everything. Whether that be in school, in sports, or in life, they want the best for me and my three siblings. To my siblings, who are always there for me on my best days and especially on my worst days. Having two brothers and a sister has been a blessing because I’ve had three best friends since day one. To my teachers, who have given me the skills and courage to pursue any assignment. Thank you to everyone who has gotten me here, and to everybody who will continue to push me to do great things.
Keywords: Exaggeration, Magnification, Statement, Claim
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” This saying is one of the most frequently used hyperboles but how are hyperboles significant and why are they used? A hyperbole is “a kind of figurative language where the speaker says something while meaning another thing” (Stern). For example, speakers would not say X, but rather they would say more than X. It’s an exaggeration that is associated with both irony and metaphor. I chose this specific topic because, as someone who actually doesn’t like when people exaggerate and use hyperboles, it would be interesting to educate myself and others on the topic. Everybody uses hyperbole in conversation, whether talking to your mother or talking to your best friend, it is a type of rhetoric that is widely accepted and has been for centuries. Dialogue is the most frequent use of hyperbole, but pop culture such as entertainment and advertisements are full of examples, as well as literature. In this chapter, I provide an overview of the meaning and the uses of hyperbole, as well as examples of common phrases.
The word hyperbole itself comes from a Greek word meaning “excess,” because it’s a “figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to make a point or show emphasis” (Examples). Hyperboles are not like similes and metaphors as those are comparisons, but rather are ridiculous overstatements not meant to be taken literally. People have been using hyperboles for hundreds of years, but we don’t know exactly when they started. There are examples documented as early as the 1820’s in written work, but people could have been using them before that in their everyday speech, just like they are commonly used today. In casual conversation, hyperboles are used as an intensifier such as “her purse weighs a ton,” meaning the purse is just very heavy. This example demonstrates why hyperboles require the user and the listener to understand the basic function of this rhetorical device. They can be used in many forms including “humor, excitement, distress, and many other emotions, all depending on the context in which the speaker uses it” (Examples). Hyperboles are among the most recognized forms of rhetoric, used in advertisements, entertainment, and in everyday life. Hyperboles have also been used for centuries in literature, especially in heroic dramas, where there is a strong emphasis on grandeur and excess. In literature, hyperboles have to be obvious and deliberate, whereas in pop culture and speech, it is much easier to identify them. For example, the Toy Story movies and specifically Buzz Lightyear use the saying “to infinity and beyond” to identify the character. In Fetty Wap’s popular song called Trap Queen, he says “soundin’ like a zillion bucks on the track.” These are strong examples because for the first one, you can’t go beyond infinity but saying that emphasizes it and for the second one, nobody knows what a zillion bucks looks or sounds like, so he’s exaggerating his wealth.
Among the most commonly used hyperboles around food is my aforementioned example of being “so hungry I could eat a horse.” A statement so ridiculous that it can’t be taken seriously, yet it is an acceptable form of saying “I’m starving.” This saying stems from the 19th century, where people would say this merely because of the size of horses and how large of a meal that would be. The earliest example of this hyperbole comes from 1824 in “The Miscellaneous Words of Tobias Smollett” (Aljadaan). Another popular example that doesn’t exactly have an origin but is heard almost every day when it comes to college students is “I have a million things to do today.” Obviously, no one can do a million tasks in one day because there are only 24 hours on the clock, but sometimes when the to-do list is full of chores, it can feel never-ending, like “a million things to do.” I have a friend who is a business student and owns and operates a small clothing business. Often this hyperbole seemed like the only thing that came out of his mouth. I usually brushed it off as a complaint because after all, he’s a college student who chooses to run his own business, but when I would see his schedule, I could sometimes agree that it did seem like he had a million things to accomplish.
The last thing that I wanted to discover and explore is why people choose to use these ridiculous exaggerations to get their point across. Surely, there must be more effective ways to state feelings. Hyperboles are used to evoke emotions rather than to be taken literally. They’re used often in advertisements. Examples include Meow Mixes’ popular “Tastes So Good, Cats Ask for It by Name” and Gillette’s “A Best A Man Can Get.” For the cat food, obviously this is an exaggeration not to be taken seriously because as everybody knows, cats “meow,” they do not speak. So, the ad uses a hyperbole to say that cats are asking for Meow Mix when they verbalize meow. For Gillette, saying that it is the best that a man can get is an hyperbole, an exaggeration, and merely an opinion by the company to advertise their product as the “best.” Because of the obvious over-generalizations in advertisement, hyperboles can have a bad reputation, similar to the negative associations with propaganda, just to increase the popularity of a brand or person, but in everyday conversations they are extremely popular.
Hyperboles are effective ways to get one’s point across while sometimes providing some comedic relief by using unrealistic exaggerations. While hyperboles go way back, they are actually not often used in professional settings. They are used often in pop culture, advertising, and entertainment, and in everyday conversations. Despite only being around for a couple hundred centuries, they are one of the most popular rhetorical devices. I loved writing about this because of how common this rhetorical device is and it’s amazing how often you’ll notice people using them now. Every day in so many different circumstances, people use hyperbole.
Aljadaan, Noura. Understanding Hyperbole. SSRN Scholarly Paper, ID 3294801, Social Science Research Network, 3 Dec. 2018. papers.ssrn.com, https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3294801.
Burgers, Christian, et al. “HIP: A Method for Linguistic Hyperbole Identification in Discourse.” Metaphor and Symbol, vol. 31, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 163–78. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1080/10926488.2016.1187041.
Colston, Herbert L., and Jennifer O’Brien. “Contrast of Kind Versus Contrast of Magnitude: The Pragmatic Accomplishments of Irony and Hyperbole.” Discourse Processes, vol. 30, no. 2, Routledge, Sept. 2000, pp. 179–99. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1207/S15326950DP3002_05.
Examples of Hyperbole: What It Is and How to Use It. https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-hyperboles.html. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Stern, Josef. Metaphor in Context. MIT Press, 2000.