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")

Other Words from hyperbole

hyperbolist \ hī-​ˈpər-​bə-​list How to pronounce hyperbole (audio) \ noun

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. Hyperballein itself was formed from hyper-, meaning "beyond," and ballein, "to throw."

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."

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
Recent Examples on the Web Preseason hyperbole included talk of Kelly instilling more discipline to the Tigers, but that was before defensive tackle Maason Smith injured his leg while celebrating after a first-quarter play. Blake Toppmeyer, USA TODAY, 5 Sep. 2022 Brett Zongker, the library’s chief of media relations, described the DCPL’s Most Endangered Places listing as full of inaccuracies and hyperbole, and criticized The Washington Post’s interest in it. Peggy Mcglone, Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2022 Such hysterical hyperbole would also dominate conversations in the world of finance. Joe Queenan, WSJ, 25 Aug. 2022 Yet there is still this pressing feeling that, for all the hyperbole running through the commentary, the core of this scandal is still very much under wraps. Audrey Clare Farley, The New Republic, 30 May 2022 But the hyperbole reached a new pitch in recent weeks as the Senate moved to adopt modest drug pricing negotiation measures in the Inflation Reduction Act. Arthur Allen, CNN, 12 Aug. 2022 Such hyperbole won’t save Democrats; voters will see that the promises don’t match reality. Karl Rove, WSJ, 3 Aug. 2022 If… did, thanks to the greatest basketball player ever taking his already mind-boggling talents to a realm where the hyperbole around him can run free. Keith Nelson, Men's Health, 29 July 2022 Various media outlets described her testimony as shocking, bombshell and blockbuster — words typically associated with hyperbole, but not this time. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 7 July 2022 See More

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.

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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Time Traveler for hyperbole

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

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Dictionary Entries Near hyperbole

hyperbola

hyperbole

hyperbolic

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Statistics for hyperbole

Last Updated

14 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Hyperbole.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyperbole. Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.

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Nglish: Translation of hyperbole for Spanish Speakers

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Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hyperbole

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