E Zine of KV Pattom published by the Library

Hyperbole

In Word of the week on March 27, 2008 at 9:14 am

Hyperbole (noun)

Pronunciation: [hI-‘pêr-bê-lee]

Definition: Overstatement; a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for effect, without intending to be taken literally.

Usage: There must be a thousand forms of this word: hyperbolism “the use of hyperbole” is the noun, “hyperbolize” is the verb, and “hyperbolic” [hI-pêr-‘bah-lik] is the adjective. When using “hyperbole” in writing or speaking, one must be especially careful to avoid the hyperbolic cliché. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse” and “Her skin was as white as snow” are not only hackneyed but overstated, as well.

Suggested Usage: No one has provided the English language with better hyperboles than Mark Twain: “There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fishhook with.” But the hyperbole is alive and well. One of today’s suggested examples comes from Justin of T. S. Hill Middle School in Dexter, Missouri, who wrote that his dog is so ugly, “he only has cat friends.” And as a jazz musician friend said, “Yeah, I know Des Moines. Played for a week there one night.”

Etymology: From Greek hyperbole “excess,” from hyperballein, “to exceed”: hyper “above, beyond” + ballein “to throw.” In Greek, “hyperbole” refers to the rhetorical effect of using exaggeration for emphasis. “Hyper-” (Latin “super”) is a relative newcomer to English, arising only in the 17th century, but it is used frequently now: “hyperactive,” “hypercritical,” “hypersensitive” are some of the neologisms recently bestowed on English. Greek ballein goes back to *gwel- “to throw; to pierce.” In English it ended up as “ball” (from Old French baller “to dance”) and “ballad,” which originally was a dance song. In the sense of “pierce,” this stem came to English as “quell” and “kill.”

–Dr. Language, YourDictionary.com

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