Hyperbole Definition

Hyperbole, derived from a Greek word meaning “over-casting” is a figure of speech, which involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.

It is a device that we employ in our day-to-day speech. For instance, when you meet a friend after a long time, you say, “Ages have passed since I last saw you”. You may not have met him for three or four hours or a day, but the use of the word “ages” exaggerates this statement to add emphasis to your wait.  Therefore, a hyperbole is an unreal exaggeration to emphasize the real situation. Some other common Hyperbole examples are given below.

Common Examples of Hyperbole

  • My grandmother is as old as the hills.
  • Your suitcase weighs a ton!
  • She is as heavy as an elephant!
  • I am dying of shame.
  • I am trying to solve a million issues these days.

It is important not to confuse hyperbole with simile and metaphor. It does make a comparison but unlike simile and metaphor, hyperbole has a humorous effect created by an overstatement.

Let us see some examples from Classical English literature in which hyperbole was used successfully.

Hyperbole Examples from Literature

Example #1

In American folk lore, Paul Bunyan’s stories are full of hyperboles. In one instance, he exaggerates winter by saying:

“Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”

Freezing of the spoken words at night in winter and then warming up of the words in the warmth of the sun during the day are examples of hyperbole that have been effectively used by Paul Bunyan in this short excerpt.

Example #2

From William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, Act II, Scene II,

“Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No. This my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

Macbeth, the tragic hero, feels the unbearable prick of his conscience after killing the king. He regrets his sin and believes that even the oceans of the greatest magnitude cannot wash the blood of the king off his hands. We can notice the effective use of hyperboles in the given lines.

Example #3

From W.H Auden’s poem “As I Walked One Evening”,

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry

The use of hyperbole can be noticed in the above lines. The meeting of China and Africa, the jumping of the river over the mountain, singing of salmon in the street, and the ocean being folded and hung up to be dried are exaggerations not possible in real life.

Example #4

From “The Adventures of Pinocchio” written by C. Colloid,

“He cried all night, and dawn found him still there, though his tears had dried and only hard, dry sobs shook his wooden frame. But these were so loud that they could be heard by the faraway hills…”

The crying of Pinocchio all night until his tears became dry is an example of Hyperbole.

Example #5

From Joseph Conrad’s novel “The Heart of Darkness”,

“I had to wait in the station for ten days-an eternity.”

The wait of ten days seemed to last forever and never end.

Function of Hyperbole

The above arguments make clear the use of hyperbole. In our daily conversation, we use hyperbole to emphasize for an amusing effect. However, in literature it has very serious implications. By using hyperbole, a writer or a poet makes common human feelings remarkable and intense to such an extent that they do not remain ordinary. In literature, usage of hyperbole develops contrasts. When one thing is described with an over-statement and the other thing is presented normally, a striking contrast is developed. This technique is employed to catch the reader’s attention.