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 hyperbole (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 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 Allen’s assertion that Utah (10-11, 7-10 Pac-12) can beat anybody or lose to anybody is not hyperbole. Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah Runnin’ Utes hammer No. 19 USC, which leads to more wondering on what this season could have been," 27 Feb. 2021 There isn't enough hyperbole to do Positano justice, and Franco's Bar at the Hotel Sirenuse falls under the same umbrella. Paul Feinstein, Travel + Leisure, "Italy's Coolest Cocktail Bars," 26 Feb. 2021 But don’t let the hyperbole of the next two weeks — or those who want to discredit Belichick — get to you. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, "Don’t try to equate the Patriots losing Tom Brady to the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth, and other thoughts," 26 Jan. 2021 Promiscuous hyperbole has consequences beyond provocation and imprecision. Theodore Gioia, The New Republic, "Death to the Negative Restaurant Review," 16 Dec. 2020 This isn’t hyperbole or exaggeration, this is literally what was offered as an explanation for the debacle that ensued. James Crepea | The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, "10 takeaways from Oregon’s loss to Iowa State in Fiesta Bowl," 4 Jan. 2021 Antipathy to the concept of artistic greatness is a sensible reaction against hyperbole and sweeping statements. Washington Post, "Maradona was great, and maybe the greatest. Can we make similar claims about artists?," 25 Dec. 2020 Gaudy, reckless overstatement, whether deployed in self-glorification, in vilification of enemies or in ideological hyperbole, has become the style of American public life on both sides of the political divide. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "The Amazing, Horrifying Age of Exaggeration," 27 Oct. 2020 By going that route, Paye is swimming against the stream of rhetoric drenched in hyperbole that spills out of his own program. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, "In an offseason full of hyperbole, one Michigan football star isn't falling prey to the hype," 8 Oct. 2020

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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Learn More about hyperbole

Time Traveler for hyperbole

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

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Statistics for hyperbole

Last Updated

6 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

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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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