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 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 site promises the opportunity to learn anything, anywhere, and in our experience, that's not hyperbole. CNN Underscored, "Level up your learning with online classes from Udemy," 28 June 2020 There was more than a hint of hyperbole in Gasparino’s sales pitch. Mike Digiovanna, Los Angeles Times, "Convincing talented undrafted free agents to sign won’t be easy for Dodgers, Angels," 12 June 2020 The pundit cited a Trump approval poll in Gateway Pundit, a right-wing media outlet known to traffic in conspiracy and hyperbole, that sits at stark odds with approval polls from leading pollsters RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "Hannity promotes Qanon conspiracy theorist who claims ‘deep state’ using coronavirus to 'manipulate economies'," 12 Mar. 2020 Were the Man in Black and Sylvester both just employing imagery and hyperbole? Lee Hutchinson, Ars Technica, "Westworld season 3: I can show you the world (and then murder you)," 5 Mar. 2020 Image But a string of them, in our age of hyperbole, can sound insincere. Jennifer Szalai, New York Times, "Why Has Language Changed So Much So Fast? ‘Because Internet’," 22 July 2019 Sign Up Now This is obviously—though perhaps not deliberately—hyperbole. Jacob Bacharach, The New Republic, "Watching South Park at the End of the World," 3 Apr. 2020 Statements of opinion, colorful hyperbole, exaggeration or insults are broadly protected by the First Amendment. Catherine Lucey, WSJ, "Trump Campaign Files Libel Suit Against Washington Post," 3 Mar. 2020 This is not hyperbole, or giving an athlete extra credit for something small. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Dwyane Wade changes lives with support of transgender daughter," 12 Feb. 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

3 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole. Accessed 12 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for hyperbole


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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