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")

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Other Words from hyperbole

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

Furyk, meanwhile, did well not to add to the hyperbole over Woods winning again. Doug Ferguson, The Seattle Times, "Tiger Woods winning adds to Ryder Cup buzz," 24 Sep. 2018 Today’s Democrats speak in hyperbole, ignore good economic news and visible problems, wage vengeful vendettas, appeal to emotion and engage in appeasement and subterfuge to hide their true motives and agenda. WSJ, "The ‘Character Issue’ Spares Neither Party," 15 Mar. 2019 There are copious media with honorary doctorates in hyperbole, so I won’t get carried away here. Matt Calkins, The Seattle Times, "It might be nothing, but until we know more, K.J. Wright’s knee treatment certainly is worrisome," 27 Aug. 2018 That's not hyperbole; that's the scope of her vision. Candace Braun Davison, House Beautiful, "You Can Now Get Designers' Most Iconic Looks in Your Own Home," 14 Mar. 2019 For all his success, Baffert does not do hyperbole. Dick Jerardi, Philly.com, "Bob Baffert knows what he has in speedy Justify, Kentucky Derby favorite | Dick Jerardi," 2 May 2018 There was no hyperbole in any of these and the other many, many statements about Jackson. Stephen Holder, Indianapolis Star, "Colts' Edwin Jackson, called 'Pound Cake,' loved life and it was plain to see," 5 Feb. 2018 When his longtime political adviser Roger Stone was indicted, the president turned the hyperbole all the way to 11. Dylan Scott, Vox, "Trump’s favorite slander against Robert Mueller’s investigation has a very long history.," 26 Jan. 2019 All of them are truly incredible, no hyperbole here. Taylor Mead, House Beautiful, "OREO Teamed Up With Jonathan Adler, Gray Malin, And Roomba To Bring You Insane Prizes," 25 Jan. 2019

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

4 Jun 2019

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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