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

Now at some point the obfuscation and the hyperbole on both sides tend to cancel each other out. Fox News, "Rudy Giuliani: Strzok's defense is ridiculous, pathetic," 13 July 2018 There's a bit of vision in that to be sure, but at least as much hyperbole. Brian Lowry, CNN, "James Cameron brings star power to 'Story of Science Fiction'," 27 Apr. 2018 Trying to paper over the difficulties he had created, Trump relied on hyperbole and lies. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Trump’s press conference in Britain was incredibly awkward.," 13 July 2018 But the bit of coarse presidential hyperbole also raised anew a question that has nagged US presidents since the end of the cold war. Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor, "NATO: Does old squabble over costs mask US shift away from Europe?," 10 July 2018 Three thousand years from now scholars may be trying to piece together Mr. Trump’s tweets as fragments of a coherent metaphysical system based on truthful hyperbole: war is all, winning is good, Krauthammer is overrated. WSJ, "Modern Heraclitus: Trump’s Genius for Chaos," 1 July 2018 Wasden and Spackman have both said users have always received their water, so claims that canals could go dry are hyperbole. Melissa Davlin And Seth Ogilvie, idahostatesman, "These reservoirs keep Boise from flooding. But irrigators don't like how they're run.," 4 June 2018 Yiannopoulos and many of his defenders like to call themselves free-speech absolutists, but this is hyperbole. Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker, "How Social-Media Trolls Turned U.C. Berkeley Into a Free-Speech Circus," 23 May 2016 Call it hyperbole, but competitors scrambled to reach his high bar. Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, "Una Pizza Napoletana Sets a High Bar," 15 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

13 Aug 2018

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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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