Printable Version
Pronunciation: hai-pêr-bê-lee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A figure of speech that exaggerates for emphasis, metaphoric overstatement.

Notes: Today's Good Word belongs to a large and widespread family. The use of hyperboles is hyperbolism, which you get when you hyperbolize a lot. The adjective is hyperbolic [hai-pr-bah-lik]. Most clichs are hyperbolic, so if you would like to avoid hyperbolism, try to be original and avoid clichs like: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" or "These shoes are killing me." .

In Play: We speak hyperbolically every time we say something good is terrific, fantastic, wonderful, or out of this world. A favorite hyperbole in my neighborhood is unbelievable: "The food in the new restaurant is simply unbelievable." Most people can believe that $50 will buy you a good meal in the US. Few people, however, have provided the English language with more original hyperboles than Will Rogers, who once opined that, if brains were gunpowder, a popular politician of his time wouldn't have enough to blow the wax out of his ears.

Word History: Like the names of most figures of speech, today's Good Word comes from Greek, this one simply transliterated: hyperbole "excess," from the verb hyperballein, "to exceed". This verb comprises hyper "above, beyond" + ballein "to throw". Greek hyper shares its origin with Latin super, which explains right off the bat why they mean the same thing, "more than normal". Greek ballein goes back to Proto-Indo-European gwel-/gwol- "to throw". In English it ended up as something you throw, a ball, the formal dance. This explains the musical alliance of ball (from Old French baller "to dance") and ballad, originally just a dance song. (It is no hyperbole to say that Moses of the Alpha Agora deserves a lot of credit for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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