Word Play – Hyperbole isn’t possible at Thanksgiving

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, November 20th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

If you have teenagers, you’re likely familiar with hyperbole. On this month’s edition of Word Play, George Grant finds the one place that over exaggeration is never possible.

EICHER: Never!

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTARY: Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses dramatic exaggeration to stress a feeling or emotion, or to show emphasis. The term passed into English from a Latin transliteration of a Greek rhetorical word meaning “excess” or “extravagance.” It literally means “to throw over” or “to cast beyond.” Hyperbole does not create a comparison, like a metaphor or a simile. Instead, it is a deliberate, sometimes comical overstatement, not meant to be taken literally. It is a kind of linguistic exclamation mark.

When we say, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times,” we’re using hyperbole. When a teenager bursts into the kitchen after school and says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,” he’s using hyperbole. When someone dashes off early to work declaring, “I’ve got a million things to do today,” she too is using hyperbole.

Hyperbole abounds in our everyday conversations. “I’ve a ton of homework tonight;” “I was so surprised you could’ve knocked me over with a feather;” “Back then, we were so poor we didn’t have two cents to rub together;” “Why, when I was your age I had to walk 15 miles in the snow—uphill both ways.”

William Shakespeare often used hyperbole to great effect. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Egeus complained of an ill-begotten love affair between his daughter and Demetrius, accusing, “with cunning hast thou filched my daughter’s heart.” In Romeo and Juliet, the smitten Romeo waxes eloquent, crooning, “her eyes in heaven would through the airy region stream so bright that birds would sing and think it were not night.”

Franklin Roosevelt employed hyperbole in his first inaugural address asserting “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When Justin Timberlake sings, “Cry Me a River” or the Proclaimers, sing, “I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more,” they too are effectively using hyperbole.

Hyperbole is a familiar feature in product advertising—think of all the “new and improved,” “fast, faster, and fastest,” and “good, better, and best” commercials. It makes its appearance in social media. And of course, it is used unceasingly in political campaigns. It seems that you can find hyperbole just about everywhere these days—no exaggeration!

But there is one place where hyperbole never appears—indeed, where hyperbole is not even possible. No matter how extravagant, no matter how grandiose, our praise can never over-exaggerate the blessing and glory and wisdom and honor and might of our God. As a consequence, our thanksgiving, no matter how lavish, will always underestimate the overabundance of His graciousness and kindness to us. Thus, the Apostle Paul would exclaim, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways.”

J.I. Packer once asserted, “Every time we pray we confess our impotence and God’s omnipotence.” Likewise, every time we give thanks we declare our need and His majesty and sovereignty. So, this Thanksgiving, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And remember: it’s not possible to overdo it. This is the one place where hyperbole never appears; it’s not even possible.

Blessed Thanksgiving.

I’m George Grant.


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