Let’s say someone tells you, “That guy is bigger than Mount Everest!” Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth, at over 29,000 feet (8,840 meters) tall. There’s a better than average chance that the guy isn’t that tall. If he was, he’d probably need supplemental oxygen, at least until he was acclimated to the height. And he probably wouldn’t fit through a standard doorway. You know that the speaker is exaggerating; he’s simply saying the guy is very large.
Another example: “That guy has a zillion dollars!” The total combined wealth of everyone on Earth is estimated at $241 trillion, and everyone else has some, so unless the value of a zillion is much less than $241 trillion, the person making the statement is likely exaggerating just a little bit. Again, saying someone has “a zillion dollars” is an exaggeration. There is no such thing as a zillion, either. But, if there was, that guy would be much closer to a zillion dollars than you are.
Exaggerations such as these are a literary device called hyperbole. Other examples include
- “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” I’m sure someone could eat an entire horse, just not at one sitting.
- “If I eat any more, I’m going to explode!” Probably not. You might throw up. Of course, there was Mr. Creosote “in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life”. (WARNING! If you haven’t seen it before, it’s very, very gross. You have been warned.)
- “It’s so hot, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk!” If it were really that hot, most life on earth would likely die. I tried this when I was a kid, and boy, did I get in trouble….
I’m sure you can think of a few more examples.
By the way, above, I wrote, “the person making the statement is likely exaggerating just a little bit.” I believe this is an example of irony, saying the man is exaggerating a little when I really mean exaggerating a lot. At least, I think it’s irony…
from The Sound of One Hand Typing