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Life, love and language


OK, here is another short article to put under Language since I feel I have been neglecting that section of my blog (along with all the rest, truth be told). And it’s on hyperbole because there has been so much of it on TV right now that I think we need to consider exactly what it is and if ‘truthful hyperbole’ is actually a thing.
Most of us would have to admit to telling the odd “white lie”, often justified by assuring ourselves that we just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and, probably more truthful, because we don’t want people thinking badly of us. And more and more we seem to be happy to accept lies told by our politicians and other newsmakers and relaters to the extent that we are said to be living in the untruth era.
But, on the whole I think most of us like to think of ourselves as being basically truthful. And yet we will happily use hyperbole without thinking twice. So, what is hyperbole, and can it be equated with lying?
The simple answer, of course, is that hyperbole is exaggeration. To be an exaggeration it has to be at least linked to truth. ‘The crowds at my inauguration were the biggest ever’ is only hyperbole if there was, in fact, an inauguration. If there wasn’t it would be a flat out lie.
From a language point of view hyperbole is a figure of speech, generally used to emphasise a point, for example, “I won’t be eating there again, that meal cost me a fortune!” Very few people hearing this would believe that the meal actually cost a fortune but would understand that it was very expensive. Similarly, if you complained that your shoes were killing you, no one would rush to apply life saving techniques since they would realize that you simply meant that your shoes were hurting your feet.
In these examples, then, hyperbole is an innocent and effective way of getting your point across to your listeners. There is no expectation that anyone would take you at your word and, in fact, to correlate it with lying is hyperbolic in itself.

But what about hyperbole being used in the commercial or political fields? Here I believe exaggeration is often intended to mislead, in which case the link to lying is much stronger. This is especially true where the hyperbole is used for self-aggrandizement. For example, ‘the economy is the best it’s ever been.” It is this form of hyperbole which has been called truthful hyperbole – “an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion” (Michael LaBossiere).

However, given that many people choose to take a statement at face value rather than go to the trouble of checking facts this sort of hyperbole is far from innocent and can lead to an almost cult like belief in an influential person who indulges in it.

Hyperbole 3


August 2, 2018 Posted by | Language | 2 Comments