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!