Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which deliberate and obvious exaggeration is used to emphasise a point.

It is important not to confuse hyperbole with similes and metaphors.  Those techniques are fundamentally comparative, whereas hyperbole are overstatements and exaggerations.  An alternative name for this technique is auxesis.

Litotes are the opposite of hyperbole.  They are deliberate understatements which use a negative in order to communicate a positive, for example “not a bad idea”.  Litotes are sometimes called meiosis.

Why is Hyperbole used?

  • Memorability:  The use of this technique is common in a whole range of literature, from novels and poetry, all the way to political speeches and advertising campaigns.  This is because the over-exaggeration is often very memorable due to it breaking normal expectations and assumptions.
  • Emphasising emotions:  Human thoughts and emotions become more notable to a reader when their associated descriptions are more intense.  This is particularly apparent if there is a contrast created, with one described with an over-statement, and the other presented normally.

Examples

Hyperbole is used in ‘A Leisure Centre is a Temple of Learning’ by Sue Boyle to help make parts of the poem more memorable, and in this case to emphasise the emotion of jealousy.

“she has perfect bone structure”

By overstating a subject as “perfect” the narrator helps to emphasise their feelings towards this other person, and that there is an aspect of jealousy in their observations.  The use of the technique here is important because a ‘normal’ description would not have been particularly memorable and therefore would not have been notable to the reader.
William Wordsworth also uses hyperbole in his poem ‘I Wandered As Lonely As A Cloud’ in order to help create powerful imagery.

“They stretched in never-ending line”

Describing nature and flowers, Wordsworth describes them as “never-ending” however this is clearly not possible. This figure of speech is very effective because it gives an indication to a reader as to how the narrator is perceiving the environment, and therefore helps create rich imagery.

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