hyperbole

noun
hy·​per·​bo·​le | \ hī-ˈpər-bə-(ˌ)lē How to pronounce hyperbole (audio) \

Definition of hyperbole

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

Other Words from hyperbole

hyperbolist \ hī-​ˈpər-​bə-​list How to pronounce hyperbole (audio) \ noun

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. Hyperballein itself was formed from hyper-, meaning "beyond," and ballein, "to throw."

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 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."

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
Recent Examples on the Web Now, while buff might be a bit of hyperbole, Herro has muscled up to challenges such as the first-round playoff series that opens Sunday at 1 p.m. at FTX Arena. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 15 Apr. 2022 Almost 50 years after its introduction, the Nautilus can be called the most prestigious sports watch in the world without fear of hyperbole. Nick Scott, Robb Report, 30 Mar. 2022 But that kind of hyperbole is emblematic of a mindset that insists Hollywood has be the center of the movie universe. Nina Metz, chicagotribune.com, 25 Mar. 2022 Many of the redditors complaints, factoring in a healthy dose of hyperbole, are valid. Jack Kelly, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2022 Both parties delivered heaps of hyperbole in their emails. Maggie Astor, New York Times, 13 Dec. 2021 That's a lot of vitriol and hyperbole emanating from the right. Damon Linker, The Week, 15 Apr. 2022 The amount of hyperbole and disillusion about the metaverse is astounding. Nina Xiang, Forbes, 13 Apr. 2022 Hype and hyperbole were on full display this week as the security world reacted to reports of yet another Log4Shell. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, 1 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near hyperbole

hyperbola

hyperbole

hyperbolic

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Last Updated

5 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole. Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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