“A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.”― Raymond Chandler
Many people think of political pundits when they hear the word hyperbole. And they’d be right to make that association. Politics is a famous realm for using hyperbole, as is marketing and humor, too.
But what exactly is hyperbole and how is it used throughout the writing world? Let’s dig in a little.
Definition of hyperbolic?
Hyperbole is when an author uses exaggeration, taking something ordinary and stretching it to the extreme, making readers chuckle or gasp at its over-the-top nature. We’ll often encounter it in speeches, writing, on billboards and menus, and probably any post to hit the front page of your favorite social media app today.
When people refer to a passage of speech or writing as being hyperbolic, it refers to the feeling of the entire piece as being full of exaggerated claims.
It’s often used as a purposeful description of something to highlight for the reader and is meant to elicit a strong emotion or impression. And it’s definitely meant to make a reader stop and reread something — if anything to just keep their attention!
Importantly, it’s never meant to be taken in the literal sense (it’s an exaggerated claim on purpose), otherwise, it isn’t actually hyperbole.
And while some people inherently think the use of hyperbole is wrong in a way, I like the way the philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger described it:
Hyperbole “asserts the incredible in order to arrive at the credible.” — Seneca
On the other hand, Aristotle once wrote that:
“Hyperboles are adolescent; for they exhibit vehemence. Therefore those in anger mostly speak them.”
If you’ve ever watched a firey famous politician’s political speech, I’m sure that last quote might take on a bit more meaning.
Anyway, the word hyperbole comes to us from Greek by way of Latin. The original words were hupér (ὑπέρ), which means above or beyond, and bállō (βάλλω), meaning throw. The English version of the word was first recorded in the 15th century.
Before we jump into how to make our own versions of hyperbole, it might help to look at a bunch of examples we’re probably familiar with.
Everyday examples of hyperbole
Whether in the schoolyard or at the office, I’m sure you’ll recognize a bunch of these famous examples of hyperbole from your everyday life.
- Back in my day, I walked uphill both ways to school.
- I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!
- I have a tonne of homework to do tonight.
- I’m laughing to death.
- Don’t listen to that pea-brained pundit.
- I jogged a million miles this week.
- I slept like a rock last night.
- She’s as light as a feather.
- He has a million things on his to-do list.
- That was the hardest test in the world.
- She ran faster than a speeding bullet.
- I’m so happy I’m floating on cloud 9.
- Cry me a river.
- The car cost me an arm and a leg to buy.
- I’ll believe that politician when pigs fly.
- It’s raining cats and dogs outside.
- She died of embarrassment.
- I’m traveling to the city that never sleeps.
- He knocked that speech out of the park.
- You took forever to arrive.
- Be careful crossing the street, it’s a jungle out there.
- He talks a mile a minute.
Examples of hyperbole in marketing and advertising
And of course, marketers absolutely love using hyperbole in their advertisements — what better way to convince us to buy their products than by exaggerating the benefits? Sigh.
But here’s a bunch you might be familiar with anyway.
- “Redbull Gives you wings” — Redbull
- “The Best a Man Can Get” — Gillette
- “The happiest place on Earth.” — Disneyland
- “There Is No Finish Line”— Nike
- “The original. If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.” — Old Spice
- “A diamond is forever.” — De Beers
- “America runs on dunkin.” — Dunkin Donuts
- “Breakfast of champions.” — Wheaties
- “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands” — M&Ms
- “Tastes So Good, Cats Ask For It By Name “ — Meow Mix
How to create your own hyperbole
Adding a touch or two of hyperbole to your own writing is a great way to make it more interesting for the readers. The more creative, the better!
Whenever I make it a point to add this to an essay, I’ll usually think along these lines to craft a juicy piece of hyperbole.
- Write the sentence in plain English first.
- Think of the action, emotion, or result taking place in the sentence. Is it time-related? Is a person going to be angry or sad? Is the action going to be difficult?
- Once you have #2 in place, think of as many ways as you can to exaggerate the idea to the 10th degree. Is a person tall? Then what are the tallest things in the world (mountains, skyscrapers, egos)?
Let’s run threw a few examples to get the hang of it.
- Normal sentence: He is often late for class.
- Hyperbolic sentence: He’s so often late he’d even miss his funeral!
- Normal sentence: I hurt my hand.
- Hyperbolic sentence: My hand is killing me!
- Normal sentence: The test is super hard.
- Hyperbolic sentence: The test is harder than climbing over a sleeping bear!
- Normal sentence: She’s really wealthy.
- Hyperbolic sentence: She’s got more money than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos’s love-child!
- Normal sentence: He’s kind of dumb.
- Hyperbolic sentence: He’s dumber than J.J. Pryor!
And with that, I bid you adieu. Good luck in writing your hyperbole! I’m sure they’ll blast some eyeballs right out of your readers’ skulls before you know it.
You might also be interested in learning about what is a simile and how it works. And if you’re thirsty for more writing knowledge, head over here to learn all 74 literary devices.