Definition of Exaggeration
Sometimes, we all exaggerate, maybe by spicing up some stories for making fun of something or simply for highlighting our points. Exaggeration is a statement that makes something worse, or better than it really is. In literature and oral communication, writers and speakers use it as a literary technique for extra stress and drama in a piece of work or speech.
Common Examples of Exaggeration
- This bicycle is thousand years old.
- He snores louder than a cargo train.
- My dog has only cat friends.
- He is drowning in his tears.
- The size of his brain is of pumpkin.
Types of Exaggeration
It is a statement with slight exaggeration to convey the meaning across such as from the poem Cole Porter’s poem, You’re the Top:
You’re the Nile,
You’re the Tower of Pisa,
You’re the smile
Of the Mona Lisa…
Here poet overstates the actual truth and calls his beloved the river Nile, the tower of Pisa and her smile like that of Mona Liza.
Hyperbole is an extreme, extravagant, and impossible exaggeration like Flannery O’ Connor writes a hyperbole in his essay, Parker’s Back, as “And the skin on her face was thin and drawn tight like the skin on an onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two ice picks.”
Exaggeration Examples from Literature
Jonathan Swift has been notorious for employing exaggeration in his writings to provide social and political commentary. Through his peculiar story, “A Modest Proposal” Swift elevates the politics of society to an extent of barefaced absurdity. In this essay, Swift exaggerates by suggesting that the only way of saving Ireland from poverty and overpopulation is to kill the children of the poor families. He further suggests that their meat would serve as a delicacy for the nobles of Ireland. He goes on to exaggerate as to consider ways and recipes to make their skin into handbags and gloves by saying, “Those who are more thrifty may flay the carcass, the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies and summer boots for fine gentleman.” In fact, Swift exaggerates tenaciously this idea because people of Ireland have failed to find a logical solution to reduce poverty and overpopulation.
“I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our more stupid melancholy propensities, for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one’s very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?”
(From Candida by Voltaire)
In this example, an old woman tells her story how she faced hard times, exaggerating that she wanted to kill herself hundred times, calling herself a burden.
John Donne uses exaggerated expressions in his poem, Song. The first line of this poem, “Go and catch a falling star,” employs impossible undertaking. In the remaining stanza, the poet urges the readers to undertake more unachievable tasks by using extreme exaggeration like finding a mandrake root — a mythical root in medieval lore and hear mermaids’ song. In the second stanza, he suggests to take journey of “ten thousand days and nights” to find a faithful woman. In fact, the entire poem is rich with exaggeratedly doubtful tasks.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest
(From To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell)
Andrew Marvell has employed exceptional exaggeration in this excerpt to praise his beloved. His purpose of using this literary device is to lay emphasis on his point rather than deception.
Function of Exaggeration
The function of any type of exaggeration, whether it is overstatement or hyperbole, is to lay emphasis and stress on the given idea, action, feature or feeling by overstating it. Through exaggeration, writers describe an action or a feature in a remarkable and heightened manner. Sometimes, they also use it sarcastically and ironically to bring humor in their works. In poetry, on the other hand, poets use it by adding images, similes and metaphors.