hyperbole

noun
hy·​per·​bo·​le | \hī-ˈpər-bə-(ˌ)lē \

Definition of hyperbole 

: extravagant exaggeration (such as "mile-high ice-cream cones")

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Other Words from hyperbole

hyperbolist \ hī-​ˈpər-​bə-​list \ noun

How is hyperbole pronounced—and why?

This word doesn't behave the way we expect a word that's spelled this way to behave. It begins with the prefix hyper-, which we know in words like hyperlink (and in the adjective hyper itself), but instead of having the accent, or emphasis, on the first syllable—HYE-per-link—it has the accent on the second syllable: hye-PER-buh-lee. And then there's that bole. It should sound just like the word bowl, right? Nope. Instead it's two syllables: \buh-lee\ .

The word comes to English directly from Latin, but the Latin word is from a Greek word that has one crucial visual difference. It has a line, called a macron, over the final e: hyperbolē. The macron tells us that the vowel is pronounced like \ee\ .

The fact that hyperbole is pronounced in a way counter to the usual workings of English pronunciation gives a hint as to the word's history in the language. Although these days you might encounter hyperbole in a magazine at the doctor's office, the word's first was use was technical. It's from the field of rhetoric, which makes it at home with terms like metaphor, trope, and litotes. And speaking of litotes (pronounced \LYE-tuh-teez\ ), that term is an approximate antonym of hyperbole. It refers to understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negation of the contrary, as in "not a bad idea" or "not unpleasant."

Did You Know?

In the 5th century B.C. there was a rabble-rousing Athenian, a politician named Hyperbolus, who often made exaggerated promises and claims that whipped people into a frenzy. But even though it sounds appropriate, Hyperbolus' name did not play a role in the development of the modern English word hyperbole. That noun does come to us from Greek (by way of Latin), but from the Greek verb hyperballein, meaning "to exceed," not from the name of the Athenian demagogue.

Examples of hyperbole in a Sentence

Four decades later we're all blabbermouths, adrift on a sea of hyperbole, shouting to be heard. — Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated, 1 Apr. 2002 … balanced on the razor edge of anachronism, creating a rich stew of accepted and invented history, anecdote, myth and hyperbole. — T. Coraghessan Boyle, New York Times Book Review, 18 May 1997 Even if we discount the hyperbole evident in such accounts, they were far from inventions. — Lawrence W. Levine, The Unpredictable Past, 1993 “enough food to feed a whole army” is a common example of hyperbole
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Recent Examples on the Web

That may sound like partisan hyperbole, or a pitch for an Andy Borowitz column. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "America Is About to Risk a World War to Defend the Credibility of Trump’s Tweets," 13 Apr. 2018 Multiple exclamation points were popping up in mundane places, not attached to hyperbole or any kind of frenzied emotion. Julie Beck, The Atlantic, "Exclamation Point Inflation," 27 June 2018 In simple frontier language, the budding but unpolished genius quickly demonstrated a unique ability to use embellishment, hyperbole, satire, caricature, parody, mock-flattery, and ridicule to flay bare essential truth. Gregory Crouch, Time, "Mark Twain Claimed He Got His Pen Name From a Riverboat Captain. He May Have Actually Gotten It in a Saloon," 19 June 2018 Kluge and Eric share a certain way with hyperbole, but the property is breathtaking. Marcia Desanctis, Town & Country, "The Strange Saga of Trump Winery," 14 Oct. 2016 Yet amid this Boy Scout good behaviour, the wildcatter spirit remains—all couched in typical industry hyperbole. The Economist, "American shale-oil producers are on a roll," 10 May 2018 While acknowledging the frustrations and the fears, Williams urged council members not to get swept up in hyperbole. Robert Higgs, cleveland.com, "Cleveland City Council peppers police Chief Calvin Williams over deployment strategy, officer hirings," 11 Apr. 2018 Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and falsehoods is on full display too. Lincoln Michel, GQ, "Netflix's Trump: An American Dream Shows the President Has Always Been Like This," 7 Apr. 2018 Miklos is prone to hyperbole and myopic with ambition. Kathryn Miles, Outside Online, "'Cooper's Treasure' and the Gray Area of Wreck Hunting," 21 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hyperbole.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of hyperbole

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hyperbole

Latin, from Greek hyperbolē excess, hyperbole, hyperbola, from hyperballein to exceed, from hyper- + ballein to throw — more at devil

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Statistics for hyperbole

Last Updated

5 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hyperbole

The first known use of hyperbole was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for hyperbole

hyperbole

noun

English Language Learners Definition of hyperbole

: language that describes something as better or worse than it really is

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Comments on hyperbole

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