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 The prime minister can be forgiven a touch of political hyperbole. The Economist, "Fault on the line A price war has undermined India’s big telecoms companies," 12 Dec. 2019 There is plenty to criticize without embracing hyperbole or losing all sense of historical perspective. David Harsanyi, National Review, "Presidential Misconduct: Some Historical Perspective," 5 Dec. 2019 King must have taken his hyperbole pills before writing the text. Leonard Greene, Twin Cities, "Leonard Greene: Political ‘victims’ who create their own problems need to stop saying they were ‘lynched’ and find a different word," 31 Oct. 2019 That's popcorn-prose concentrate, the kind of dramatic hyperbole that Star Wars has been coasting on since the very beginning. Isaac Feldberg, Fortune, "What to Watch (and Skip) In Theaters and on Netflix This Weekend," 18 Dec. 2019 Walton is known for his extreme hyperbole, of course. oregonlive, "Oregon’s Payton Pritchard lets others make comparisons as he inches toward becoming an all-time Duck great," 10 Oct. 2019 Our rhetoric will remain overheated, and our hyperbole will reach new heights of absurdity — perfect grist for Sunday morning news shows and late-night comedians. Gary Abernathy, Twin Cities, "Gary Abernathy: How does this all end? Just as it should: With the 2020 election.," 3 Oct. 2019 But some find that the account provides a public service in an emerging industry prone to hyperbole. Sophia Chen, Wired, "Revolt! Scientists Say They're Sick of Quantum Computing's Hype," 12 Dec. 2019 And while the Lions’ star cornerback is occasionally given to hyperbole, his larger point about the quarterback’s importance to the franchise is, if anything, understated. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Lions dodging Matthew Stafford questions can't mask reality of 3-5-1," 11 Nov. 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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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

15 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole?show=0&t=1321302236. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for hyperbole

hyperbole

noun
How to pronounce hyperbole (audio)

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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