On this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy hosted a White House dinner honoring 49 Nobel Prize winners. Addressing the gathered collection of extraordinary minds, Kennedy gave a brief speech, one sentence of which is one of the most memorable of presidential quotations (See September 2: Presidential Proverb Day):
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of human talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Kennedy’s remark is a textbook example of hyperbole: a type of figurative language that exaggerates for effect or emphasis.
The etymology of hyperbole is from the Greek huper meaning beyond and ballein meaning to throw. So the image is of a pitcher over-throwing his mark. A modern slang derivative of hyperbole is hype, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “excessive publicity, or exaggerated or extravagant claims made, especially in advertising or promotional material.”
As Kennedy’s quotation demonstrates, the primary effect of hyperbole is humor, and it should be clear to both the writer and to the audience that the exaggeration is intentional.
Today’s Challenge: I’ve Told You a Million Times Not to Exaggerate
What are some examples of situations in which someone might use hyperbole in writing? Select one or more of the topics below, and celebrate Hyperbole Day by writing a short piece.
- Write a film review for your favorite movie, exaggerating its excellence.
- Write an advertisement exaggerating the fine qualities of a project.
- Write a note explaining, excusing, and exaggerating the circumstances surrounding your late homework.
- Write a tabloid article exaggerating the who, what, when, and where of a story.
- Write a love poem exaggerating your devotion to your significant other.
- Write a college essay exaggerating your fine qualities and qualifications for college.
- Write a tall tale or fish story, exaggerating the details of what happened.
- Write the text of a campaign commercial, exaggerating the qualities of a candidate.
- Write a monologue for a telephone solicitor, exaggerating the urgency of buying your product.
- Write a nostalgic memory, exaggerating the hardships you faced.
Quotation of the Day: Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red. -William Shakespeare