Hyperbole is a tricky thing. In a joke, it works great. Its the foundation of a tall tale (TO BRASKY!). But in a conversation of ideas, it can backfire.
The trick about humans is that we rarely know exactly what the humans around us are thinking. Do they agree with what I’m saying? Are my jokes bombing? Is this presentation interesting or is the audience playing on their phones?
So the trick with hyperbole is that I might make an exagerated statement to move things along. But the other people in the conversation might think I actually mean what I said. Maybe they understand the thought behind the hyperbole, but maybe I end up unintentionally derailing the conversation. More times than I can remember, I’ve said something bold to move things along and it totally backfired. Hyperbole backfired.
Nothing beats concise language.
3 thoughts on “Skip the hyperbole”
I was with you up until the last line. Concision is worse than hyperbole. Human beings are slooooooooow at comprehension both when reading and listening. They need a high degree of redundancy for something to really sink in. My aunt who’s a professor of rhetoric at UC Riverside says: If you want someone to remember something, tell them three times. Three is a good number of times to tell someone something if it’s important that they remember it. Most people will forget anything you don’t tell them at least three times.
That’s why we have the classical rhetorical strategy of: tell them what you’re going to to tell them. Tell them the thing. Tell them what you just told them.
I think this kind of strategy actually can solve the hyberbole problem to. Sly subtle irony only works if the social contract governing the communication implies close careful reading. If not, it helps to beat someone over the head with something and concision is the enemy of that.
Sounds like same goes for sarcasm. Moving from Europe to Texas resulted on multiple occasions on people thinking I was blatantly insulting them.
There should be a manual for this stuff.
I always try to qualify my hyperbole by saying something like, “This is exaggeration for effect.” Being concise is probably the better approach…
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