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Definition: A hyperbole is a figure of speech exaggerating ideas for emphasis. It’s a deliberate and obvious exaggeration used to create humor or to emphasize a particular point.
Hyperboles are not meant to be taken literally; rather, they convey an emotional tone or the strength of an experience.
Hyperbole is common in everyday English but can also be used strategically by writers of movies and books.
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Hyperbole Definition and Meaning
A hyperbole is a rhetorical device in which statements are exaggerated to create a strong impression but are not to be taken literally.
The word hyperbole is of Ancient Greek origin. The Greek word Hupér means ‘above’ or ‘beyond,’ and bállō means ‘throw.’
Examples in Common Speech
Hyperbole is common in everyday language. We see it whenever we make an extravagant statement in daily conversation.
We often do so without thinking because many have become clichés or figures of speech.
Below are some common hyperbole examples that show the use of hyperbolic statements in everyday conversation:
- “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” – This hyperbole suggests that the speaker is very hungry, but it’s not suggesting they could consume an entire horse.
- “She’s running faster than the wind.” – This exaggerates the person’s speed, implying they are running very fast, but not literally faster than the wind.
- “This bag weighs a ton.” – The speaker exaggerates the bag’s weight, which is very heavy, but it certainly doesn’t weigh 2,000 pounds (or 907 kilograms).
- “I’ve told you a million times.” – The speaker likely hasn’t told the person literally a million times but emphasizes that they’ve repeated themselves many times.
- “She cried a river of tears.” – This hyperbole describes someone very upset and crying a lot, but it doesn’t mean she produced a river made of tears. It’s a good example of hyperbolic language conveying strong feelings.
- “I had to walk 15 miles uphill both ways to school in the snow.” – This classic exaggeration emphasizes the speaker’s perceived hardship, but it’s not to be taken as a factual account.
Hyperboles are common in everyday speech, advertising, and literature, especially poetry and fiction, to convey emotions and make the descriptions more vivid and engaging.
Example of Hyperbole by Screenwriters and Directors in Movies
Screenwriters and directors often use hyperbole to add emphasis, create humor, evoke strong emotions, or dramatize situations.
When used correctly, it’s an effective tool in creative writing to grab readers’ and viewers’ attention.
Hyperbole in movies isn’t limited to figurative language (fx the dialogue) between the characters but manifests in a particular style or world-building.
The following examples are from screenwriters and directors known for using hyperbole in their work, along with explanations of how they employed this literary device:
1. 300 (Zack Snyder): Dramatic Use
In 300, the character King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) uses hyperbole when he addresses his Spartan warriors with the line,
“Tonight, we dine in hell!”Gerard Butler
This is an exaggerated way of saying they will fight against the Persian army to death.
2. Kill Bill: Volume 1 (Quentin Tarantino): Stylized Violence
Tarantino’s films, like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, are often peppered with hyperbolic violence, which is so over-the-top that it becomes a stylistic trademark.
For instance, in Kill Bill: Volume 1, the Bride’s showdown at the House of Blue Leaves results in an extravagantly choreographed massacre with an unrealistically high body count, exemplifying visual hyperbole in action.
You might like What Is Syntax?, which is a guide on how syntax affects different aspects of screenplay – from character creation and dialogue to pacing.
3. The Producers (Mel Brooks): Comedic Use
Mel Brooks, the comedic genius behind Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, uses hyperbole to generate laughter.
In The Producers, the character Max Bialystock describes a situation, saying,
“We’re not ordinary people. We’re the lunatics!”Max Bialystock
This exaggeration humorously highlights the eccentric nature of the characters and the absurdity of their predicaments.
4. Titanic (James Cameron): Emotional Heightened Effect (happiness, love)
Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) says to Rose (Kate Winslet): “I’m the king of the world!” when he’s standing at the bow of the Titanic with his arms outstretched.
“I’m the king of the world!”Jack
Although he’s not literally claiming to be a ruler, the hyperbolic nature of the statement captures his overwhelming feeling of freedom and joy at that moment.
5. When Harry Met Sally (Nora Ephron): Romantic Exaggeration
Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies often feature hyperbole to express the intensity of love and relationships.
In When Harry Met Sally, Harry (Billy Crystal) makes an impassioned speech at the movie’s end, saying:
“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”Harry
Ephron uses this exaggeration to underscore the urgency and depth of Harry’s feelings for Sally.
6. Mean Girls (Tina Fey): Comedic Use
In Mean Girls, Damian (Daniel Franzese) uses hyperbole to emphasize Regina George’s social status when he says:
“That’s why her hair is so big; it’s full of secrets.”
Hyperbole is also used as verbal irony in Mean Girls. You can read more on verbal irony and how to use it here.
7. Toy Story (Joss Whedon et al.): Exaggeration
In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear’s iconic catchphrase, “To infinity and beyond!” is a hyperbolic statement because it suggests going beyond the infinite, which is not literally possible but underscores his adventurous and boundless character.
“To infinity and beyond!”Buzz Lightyear
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam et al. ): Ironic Effect
In the memorable scene where the Black Knight suffers increasingly severe limb amputations in a duel but continues to downplay his injuries with extreme understatement, claiming that each loss is “just a flesh wound.”
The hyperbole of his invincibility contrasts ironically with his obvious and severe bodily damage.
9. Juno (Diablo Cody): Exaggerated Dialogue
Diablo Cody employs hyperbole in Juno through the film’s quirky and distinctive teenage dialogue.
The title character, Juno MacGuff (Elliot Page), uses lines like “My junk is your junk and vice versa” to convey the deep, albeit hyperbolic, connection she feels with her baby’s adoptive father.
My junk is your junk and vice versaJuno MacGuff
Cody’s exaggerated dialogue captures the strong emotions and idiosyncrasies of her characters.
These screenwriters have utilized hyperbole in their screenplays to different effects—whether to heighten drama, accentuate humor, stylize violence, or convey the magnitude of emotions.
Their skillful use of this device has contributed to some of the most memorable moments in film history.
Examples of hyperbole in Literature
Hyperbole is also a common literary device in contemporary and classic literature.
Here are some great examples of hyperbole in literature, many of which were later made into movies.
1. Charles Dickens
Dickens is known for his vivid characters and detailed descriptions of Victorian life.
Dickens often used hyperbole to add drama and highlight social injustices.
In Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind is described as
“A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations… With a rule, a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature and tell you exactly what it comes to.”Charles Dickens
The hyperbole here emphasizes Gradgrind’s obsession with facts and quantitative measures to absurdity, suggesting he could literally measure human nature as one would measure a parcel, which is impossible.
2. Mark Twain
Twain’s use of hyperbole often served a comedic purpose, poking fun at the absurdities of life or human nature.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain writes:
“I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. I was shaking like a leaf.”Twain
This is a common expression that exaggerates the narrator’s fear to a humorous extent, comparing the trembling of a person to the light, inconsequential shaking of a leaf in the wind.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald used hyperbole to convey strong emotions and the luxury and extravagance of the Jazz Age.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s parties:
“The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.”Fitzgerald
The description of the cocktails as permeating the garden and making the air “alive” with human interactions is an exaggeration that vividly conveys the lively, over-the-top nature of Gatsby’s extravagant parties.
4. Douglas Adams
Adams often employed hyperbole in his science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for comedic effect and to highlight the absurdity of the universe.
In describing the spaceship “Heart of Gold,” Adams writes:
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”Douglas Adams
This is an ironic use of hyperbole, as it emphasizes the improbability of the ships’ ability to float by comparing them to an object that is universally known for not being able to do so, thereby creating a humorous and memorable image.
Check out the best comedy sci-fi movies.
5. J.K. Rowling
In the Harry Potter series, Rowling uses hyperbole to create vivid imagery and heighten the emotional stakes of her magical world.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ron Weasley’s spell backfires, making him belch slugs, and he says,
“Can you taste it all over again? It’s like being sick. I don’t know how you stand it, it feels like I’ve got the taste of George’s socks in my mouth.”Ron Weasley
Ron’s description of tasting the slugs exaggerates the unpleasantness of the experience to a comically grotesque level, evoking strong feelings of disgust and humor in the reader.
Revisit some of the most inspirational Harry Potter moments here.
6. Joseph Conrad
In Heart of Darkness, Conrad often uses hyperbolic descriptions to express the extreme conditions and emotions experienced by the characters.
For example, Marlow describes the African jungle:
“The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.”Conrad
Heart of Darkness was the basis for Francis Ford Coppola’s war movie Apocalypse Now.
In the film, the character of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and the environment he creates are hyperbolic.
See the best quotes from Apocalypse Now.
His actions and the way he has set himself up as a god-like figure among the indigenous Montagnard tribesmen can be seen as a hyperbolic representation of the madness and moral decay that can result from war.
Kurtz’s entire existence in the film is surreal and exaggerated, reflecting the extreme psychological toll that the Vietnam War has on individuals.
7. William Shakespeare
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there are several instances, one of which is when Macbeth speaks about his guilt:
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”Macbeth
Here, Macbeth hyperbolically suggests that the blood on his hands would turn the entire ocean red, emphasizing his deep sense of guilt and the magnitude of his crime.
8. Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five contains examples of hyperbolic expression, often used to underline the absurdity of war. For instance, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim thinks to himself:
“And so it goes…” repeated many times throughout the novel after a death or any mention of mortality.
While this isn’t a direct hyperbole, the phrase can be interpreted as understated, trivializing death to absurdity.
9. Harper Lee
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch narrates hyperbolic descriptions reflecting her youthful perspective. For example:
“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch, and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.”Scout Finch
Here, Scout dramatically sums up the gifts Boo Radley has given them, concluding with the hyperbolic and powerful statement “and our lives,” emphasizing the great impact she feels these gifts (and Boo himself) have had on them.
These examples demonstrate how hyperbole can be used effectively in literature to heighten emotion, convey intensity, or satirize a subject.
10. Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift is well-known for his satirical works.
A famous example of his hyperbole use is A Modest Proposal, where he satirically suggests that the poor Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies.
The entire essay is a hyperbolic argument designed to criticize and draw attention to the cruel attitudes toward the poor at the time. Here’s an excerpt:
“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”Jonathan Swift
The hyperbole lies in the outrageous suggestion that eating children could be a reasonable solution to economic hardship.
Swift uses this exaggerated proposal to satirize the wealthy’s lack of empathy and pragmatic approaches toward the plight of the impoverished.
Exaggeration of hyperbole can diminish the effect.
Be careful not to exaggerate deliberate exaggeration (pun intended!)
Misuse of hyperbole can lead to its overuse, diminishing its intended effect.
When applied with careful precision, hyperbole ignites laughter and multiplies comedic impact.
However, excess can lead to skepticism and disinterest in audiences. Word artists know that hyperbole’s strength comes from its selective use.
Strategic deployment keeps narratives and dialogues fresh. In seeking creative expression, subtlety ensures hyperbole remains an enjoyable enhancement rather than an overwhelming main dish.
The definition of hyperbole is a literary device used for emphasis through extreme exaggeration.
Hyperbole helps to articulate emotions with an intensity that parallels the heightened states of being it seeks to describe.
Intentional exaggeration, when skillfully employed, transcends mere decorative language; it becomes a powerful force that can shape the reader’s experience and understanding.
Hyperbole is multifaceted. It can inject a humorous effect into the narrative, encouraging a lighter, more playful interaction with the subject matter.
Alternatively, it can underscore the gravity of a situation, magnifying its importance or the character’s emotional response to an almost unbelievable level.
Exaggerated statements are not just confined to the pages of fiction or poetry; hyperbole is also a staple in everyday speech, reflecting our natural tendency to emphasize and exaggerate for effect and seen in movies as stylistic or world-building choices.
Most importantly, using hyperbole in writing creates memorable and impactful storytelling, leaving an indelible mark on the reader’s imagination.
As a literary device, hyperbole reminds us that sometimes the truth of our emotions is best captured in the grandiose and the overstated, painting our experiences with the bold strokes of intentional and artful exaggeration.