Definition: extravagant exaggeration
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
Hyperbole is probably the one literary and rhetorical device on this list that most people have heard of. It’s not just moderate exaggeration, but extreme exaggeration: being hungry enough to eat a horse, or so angry you will literally explode, or having to walk 40 miles uphill both ways to school every day. Hyperbole came into English in the 15th century from the Greek words hyper, meaning “over,” and ballein, meaning “to throw or cast.” When you use hyperbole, you are overshooting the target (not hyperbole).
Hyperbole can often look like simile or metaphor. Simile is when two things are compared using the words like or as, as in “cheeks as red as roses” or “hair like fire”; metaphor is when a word or phrase that literally means something else is used figurative in order to describe another thing, as in “drowning in debt.” Many people claim that hyperbole, simile, and metaphor can’t possibly overlap, but that’s not true. The difference is that hyperbole is always gross overstatement, whereas simile and metaphor aren’t always. “I hate broccoli with the white-hot hate of a thousand suns” is both hyperbole and metaphor; “You’re as big as a whale” is both hyperbole and simile (and rude).