Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Hyperbole

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is hyperbole. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Hyperbole refers to language that describes something as much better or worse than it really is.

// The customer’s letter of complaint included a number of outrageous claims and was generally full of hyperbole.

// The children were disappointed to learn that while the ice cream cones were very large, describing them as “foot-high” was pure hyperbole.

HYPERBOLE in Context

“It is tempting for elected leaders to engage in hyperbole, some more inflammatory than others, to signal the depth of their indignation.” — Carl Golden, The Daily Post-Athenian (Athens, Tennessee), 14 May 2022

Did You Know?

In the 5th century B.C.E. there was a rabble-rousing Athenian politician named Hyperbolus. Since Hyperbolus is known to history as a demagogue, i.e. “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power,” one might be tempted to assume that his name played a role in the development of the modern English word hyperbole, but that’s not the case. Although that noun does come to us from Greek (by way of Latin), it does so instead from the Greek verb hyperballein, meaning “to exceed,” which itself was formed from hyper-, meaning “beyond,” and ballein, “to throw.” Hyperbolus may have preferred to take the undeserved credit, of course.

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