• 3-minute read
  • 11th June 2020

The Best Blog Post Ever! How to Use Hyperbole

Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration or overstatement to make a point. In this post, we’ll look at how to use it effectively in your writing.

Hyperbole in Everyday Language and Humor

People use hyperbole a lot in everyday life. For instance, have you ever said any of the following?

  1. It took forever.
  2. I’m so full I could burst.
  3. I’ve told you this a million times.

These are all hyperbole (i.e., exaggerations) rather than literal facts:

  1. Something that “took forever” may have taken a long time, but it is unlikely to have lasted a literal eternity.
  2. We say we are ready to “burst” if we are full, but this is not an actual medical hazard (unless you are Mr. Creosote).
  3. You might have repeated yourself, but you probably haven’t told someone the same thing that many times.

The key is that using hyperbole allows you to make a point more strongly. As a result, it is also common in humor. For example:

The house was so damp I had to wear flippers instead of slippers.

Here, again, we’re not being literal! Flippers are not a sensible solution to damp in a building. But by suggesting we require diving equipment to walk around the house, we can humorously emphasize the problem.

Exaggeration in Commercial Copy

Another place you will see hyperbole a lot is commercial copy, such as advertising. Examples include:

  • The happiest place on earth (Disneyland)
  • Red Bull gives you wings! (Red Bull)
  • Probably the best beer in the world (Carlsberg)

Like the previous examples, these hyperbolic claims are not necessarily meant to be taken literally (especially the Red Bull one). But by exaggerating and using superlatives, the companies above can emphasize their brands.

It is important to be careful when using hyperbole in commercial copy, though! If you exaggerate the abilities or performance of a product or service too much, even if it is just for rhetorical effect, you could fall foul of regulations about advertising standards.

Hyperbole in Literature

Hyperbole is often used in fiction, poetry, and other creative writing. It works in the same way as the examples above, using exaggeration to heighten or emphasize an idea in a way that literal language cannot.

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Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars.

Juliet’s cheek is not literally brighter than a star, but the hyperbole helps to show the depth of Romeo’s feelings. Similarly, in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” Wordsworth describes a line of daffodils thusly:

They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

A line of daffodils can’t literally be “never-ending” – that’s impossible – but the hyperbole helps to paint a vivid picture of the daffodils for the audience.

When to Use It in Your Writing

In summary, hyperbole has two main uses in writing:

  1. To emphasize a point.
  2. To add humor to something.

Whether it’s appropriate to do either, though, depends on what you’re writing. In a formal essay or report, you’re better off sticking to the facts. This kind of writing usually aims for a neutral tone, so hyperbole and exaggeration would seem out of place.

For creative writing projects, commercial copy, or persuasive writing, however, it can help you to evoke an emotional response in your audience.

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