Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of hyperbole?

The definition of hyperbole is a figure of speech that exaggerates the truth for dramatic, comedic, or poetic emphasis.


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Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration or an extravagant statement. It is a figure of speech employed for the sake of emphasis and not intended to be taken literally. Hyperbole is a common poetic, comedic, and dramatic device, but it is also used in everyday speech (e.g. one might say “I’m starving” to express hunger).

Hyperbole comes from the Greek word hyperballein, meaning “to exceed,” from hyper (“over”) and ballein (“to throw”). 

An example of hyperbole:

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 sun up to find out what folks were talking about the night before.

The hyperbole employed in this excerpt from a Paul Bunyan folktale lets the reader know that the winter in question was very cold, but makes the tone silly and whimsical because of the obvious exaggeration. 

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