hy·per·bo·le (hīˈpərbəlē): exaggeration, overstatement, magnification, embellishment, excess, overkill, rhetoric…
I hate hyperbole, first of all because it’s gotta have the worst spelling of any word in the English language! How am I supposed to pronounce such a word spelled with such counterintuitivity?!
It seems that everyone is addicted to hyperbole these days, and I blame the entirely corrupt media and all politicians for this! Like Bill Moyers said of one of our former presidents, “Hyperbole was to Lyndon Johnson what oxygen is to life.”
To many people’s minds there is nothing in politics or religion that’s nuanced these days. Everything is black, white, or non-existent. Nothing is amber anymore.
Hyperbole kills conversations. If a politician is concerned for the poor, she’s a communist. If a preacher can’t decide between pre or postmillennialism he’s a liberal. If someone’s gay, they’re a sexual predator. Someone cares about the environment and they’re derogatorily labeled a “tree hugger.” Anyone who believes that marriage should only be between a man and woman is automatically “homophobic.” A person against abortion is anti-feminist and chauvinistic. And if you voted for Trump you’re an ingrate.
At least one of those statements is absolutely and universally true! 🙂
OK, I admit to some satire here. Hyperbole can be a great literary device for emphasis, humor and good-hearted provocation, like when Yogi Berra, the master of the nonsensical said, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded!” Marshall McLuhan wrote, “I satirize at all times, and my hyperboles are as nothing compared to the events to which they refer.” Brilliant! Not to mention Jesus’ ample use of this device in his teaching––pluck out your bad eye, hate your parents, shoving camels through needles is easier than pushing rich people into church! But in debates and heated arguments on philosophical, political, or religious matters, hyperbole is not usually very helpful.
Its spelling notwithstanding, I hate (a lot of) hyperbole, because it assassinates productive dialog. Once you’ve defined me with an overstated label, I become too adrenalized to condense all my intelligent explanations of my nuanced belief system. So, I just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually some hyperbolic characterization of you and all those exactly like you!
I said in my haste, “All men are liars.” Psalm 116:11
Haste and hyperbole run in tandem. We pull this weapon out of our arsenal when we’re in a hurry to win. We depict things to be bigger than they are in order to shrink our opponent’s argument.
It seems to me that our conversational rules of engagement have been hijacked by the childish antics during debates between politicians. We’re now taking our cues from hyperbole-slinging character-slayers. We’ve forgotten how to listen to one another, to know one another, to respect one another.
We lie in wait for watchwords that obviously give away the other person’s hidden agenda and characterize them as belonging exclusively to one camp or another. We wait on the edge of our seat for them to inhale so we can slip in our own pearls of wisdom mid-sentence. “He’s obviously a Democrat… she’s a racist… a legalist… a phony…” While they’re talking we’re thinking of the best libelous label to put on them and to shrink-wrap them into manageable packaging.
“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” Proverbs 18:13 (The Message)
Twitter, with just enough space for exaggeration, is a favorite tool of the hyperbolizer. “Racist, liar, phony, stupid…” are all words that fit nicely a tweet box. You don’t even have to include verbs or other normally essential parts of speech to change public opinion on Twitter. Insulting someone within 140 characters is an art as well as a skill.
Therefore, everyone who “tweets” is a bad person! 🙂
Caricatures in the comics can be quite funny. Exaggerating the size Bill Clinton’s nose, Obama’s ears, or Trump’s hair is fair game in the funny papers. But in the way we talk to one another or about others we disagree with, hyperbole is cheap and lazy.
Hyperbole and labeling are first cousins. Labels that exaggerate one aspect of a person aren’t expansive enough to describe them. Each divine image bearing human is bigger than any one label can contain. Call a guy a name and you’re implying that’s all they are (hyperbole). He can’t be smart or perceptive or wise about anything at all. He’s just an idiot. Caricatures shrink him down to manageable size and make us big––at least bigger than he is! Filing someone in a small folder where we can keep him from breaking out of our drawer of definitions belittles what God made and therefore loves.
Name-calling and overkill rhetoric migrates from mouths to ears to mouths and on to other ears like a flu virus sickening anyone who inhales it. No one is immune to this highly infectious airborne virus. Tabloids and their Internet, TV, and radio counterparts have taught us to be expert labellers and hyperbolizers.
We really must stop painting others with a broad, muddy brush! If we must use labels, may we use one that dignify and edify. If we must hyperbolize may we exaggerate their good qualities and pray about their faults.
In the meantime, anyone who doesn’t hate hyperbole as much as I do is an idiot! 🙂
BTW, you’ll never ever be able to refute the fact that The Other End of the Dark is the best book ever written!
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