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Friday, March 31, 2006

March 31: Hyperbole Day

Today is the birthday of poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). His best known poem, To His Coy Mistress, is the textbook example of hyperbole: a type of figurative language that exaggerates for effect. The speaker in the poem is attempting to seduce his young mistress; he begins his argument by describing how, if time allowed, he would spend the necessary and appropriate amount of time admiring his love’s beauty from afar:

My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
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;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

By the end of the poem, the speaker urges his mistress -- because the clock is ticking and her beauty will not last forever -- to seize the day (Carpe Diem), the modern equivalent of ACT NOW.

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."

Today's Challenge: Write the Hype
Select one or more of the topics below, and celebrate Hyperbole day by writing a short piece.


1. Write a film review for your favorite movie, exaggerating its excellence.
2. Write an advertisement exaggerating the fine qualities of a project.
3. Write a note explaining, excusing, and exaggerating the circumstances surrounding your late homework.
4. Write a tabloid article exaggerating the who, what, when, and where of a story.
5. Write a love poem exaggerating your devotion to your significant other.
6. Write a college essay exaggerating your fine qualities and qualifications for college.
7. Write a tall tale or fish story, exaggerating the details of what happened.
8. Write the text of a campaign commercial, exaggerating the qualities of a candidate.
9. Write a monologue for a telephone solicitor, exaggerating the urgency of buying your product.
10. Write a nostalgic memory, exaggerating the hardships you faced.


The following example of hyperbole was written by Hugh Gallagher in 1990. He was eighteen at the time and won first place in Scholastic Inc.’s high school writing contest.

ESSAY: IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU, THE APPLICANT, BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

Quote of the Day: Genius is an infinite capacity for taking life by the scruff of the neck. --Katherarine Hepburn

3 comments:

Joe the DJ said...

Interestng, interesting, get's ypu thinking.

Joe the DJ said...

you thinking i mean

Joe the DJ said...

wow!