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Do You Always Mean What You Say?

DO YOU ALWAYS MEAN WHAT YOU SAY?Waiting for a bus, I'm burning to death in this heat.  To make matters worse, I'm dying of thirst.  And I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.  It doesn't help that my feet are killing me and my briefcase weighs a ton.  An earlier bus took forever to arrive, so that was a non-starter.  At least it isn't raining cats and dogs.

Hyperbole, or exaggeration, is a way of grabbing your listener's attention, to make what you say more interesting.  It has been defined as "an elegant embroidering of the truth which asserts the incredible en route to the credible."  My gran used to embroider my socks with my initials, and it worked, I never lost them, except once.

In a famous comedy performance, Monty Python's 4 Yorkshiremen employ ever more extreme hyperbole in boasting about their impoverished childhood.  "After 14 hours down the mill, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!"  To which another would say, "Luxury!  Our Dad beat us around the head with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!"

One folk song claims that it was once so cold that all spoken words froze solid, and people had to wait until sunrise the next day to discover what everyone was talking about the night before.  We've all had nights like that.

When a football referee tells us his eye operation cost him an arm and a leg, we probably don't take it literally but sometimes the line between lies and exaggeration is so blurred that even a referee might be forgiven for a bad decision.  People aren't lying too deliberately when they exaggerate downwards: "I'm just 5 minutes away"/"It must have gone to my spam folder"/"This is delicious"/"Your baby is adorable."

Occasionally, magnification of the truth seems almost as appropriate as the truth itself.  On at least two occasions, "the shot heard round the world" certainly did have widespread consequences.  The opening shot of the American Revolutionary War led to the creation of the U.S.A., and the assassination of an Austrian Archduke later provoked World War 1. 

In the Far East, I was once atop a building so high up that I could see planes flying beneath me, but when I mentioned this back home I was accused of hyperbole, at which point I almost died of embarrassment and wished the earth would open up and swallow me.  

I feel the same nowadays when I look at my garden, and think to myself, "It's a jungle out there!"  But I quickly realise I am exaggerating, and leave my hunting rifle and lawnmower in the garden shed.  Actions speak louder than words, and anyway, for some reason the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.  Hard as that is to believe.         


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