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

With the Fernandes talk now appearing to be concrete, rather than just media hyperbole, United could be set to sign one of the most talked about playmakers in world football. SI.com, "Man Utd Close to Agreeing Bruno Fernandes Deal After Months of Speculation," 30 July 2019 Trump appeared to dig a deeper hole even as a top White House aide sought to dismiss the controversy by describing Trump’s comments as hyperbole. Hope Yen, The Denver Post, "Accused of racism, Trump blasts black congressman as racist," 29 July 2019 Trump appeared to dig a deeper hole even as a top White House aide sought to dismiss the controversy by describing Trump’s comments as hyperbole. Hope Yen, Twin Cities, "Accused of racism, Trump blasts black congressman as racist," 29 July 2019 But hyperbole was the least offensive aspect of Cronin-Furman’s essay. David French, National Review, "In the New York Times, a ‘Human Rights’ Professor Calls for Mob Rule," 1 July 2019 The plea was a bit of hyperbole, but there was truth in it. Rebecca Boyle, Discover Magazine, "The Quixotic Quest to Birth a Baby Northern White Rhino," 25 June 2019 Real sportscaster Joe Tessitore and comic actor Rob Riggle provide the color coverage, which is long on absurd hyperbole. Robert Lloyd, chicagotribune.com, "Steph Curry, game-show host? For the broadcast networks, summer TV is all in good fun," 21 June 2019 In 1987, along with the plagiarism controversy, Biden's campaign was buffeted by accusations of hyperbole and imprecision. Author: Neena Satija, Anchorage Daily News, "Echoes of Biden’s 1987 plagiarism scandal continue to reverberate," 5 June 2019 If on the other hand those mid-century Democrats were victims of hyperbole, then isn’t Sanders, by claiming them for his own socialist project, just repeating the insult? Nr Editors, National Review, "The Week," 20 June 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

27 Aug 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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