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

Well, perhaps that's a bit of dealer hyperbole, but not by much. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "Why the Honda CRF50F Is the Quintessential Starter Dirt Bike," 28 Nov. 2018 And always, the media bolsters this rhetoric by trotting out pro-Obama, pro-Hillary Clinton, former deep state officials to thrash Trump, all in an attempt to legitimize their hyperbole. Fox News, "Scalise compares Trump's Russia strategy to Obama's; Nunes on warning Obama administration about Russia," 19 July 2018 Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group. Laura Mcgann, Vox, "The desperate demagogue," 2 Nov. 2018 Some conservatives attempt to match the hyperbole and theatrics of campus progressives. Jillian Kay Melchior, WSJ, "The Scourge of ‘Diversity’," 12 Oct. 2018 The reporters in Green Bay admit McCarthy is prone to hyperbole. cleveland.com, "DeShone Kizer as a first-round pick makes sense: Doug Lesmerises 3rd & Short," 12 May 2018 This isn’t hyperbole, Gemini love: On Thursday, November 8, Jupiter (the planet of fortune and expansion) moves into Sagittarius (your opposite sign) activating your partnership zone. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What November's Gemini Horoscope Means for You," 28 Oct. 2018 No hyperbole here: The retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy fulfills a conservative dream and a liberal nightmare. David Weigel, Washington Post, "Can Democrats get their base excited about a court fight?," 30 June 2018 No stranger to hyperbole and the hard sell, President Donald Trump laid it on thick praising Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the wake of Singapore summit. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "A brief history of American presidents praising dictators.," 12 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

15 Jan 2019

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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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tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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