Caution: May Contain Hyperbole
I’m a fan of hyperbole, but it continues to amaze me how much hyperbole is misinterpreted. Americans simply don’t understand it. We are so “anti-generalization” that we forget hyperbole is a form of rhetoric. I’ve seen people misunderstand hyperbole over the internet, but never on such a grand scale as with this presidential election.
I use Donald Trump because he is an easy example. Trump has a problem opposite the culture. Instead of not using hyperbole like the majority of the culture, he never not uses hyperbole. This is why he became so noticeable the more he opened his mouth: he swam against the cultural current. Aside from his blatant lying and inability to form a coherent policy, is it any wonder why everything he says gets “misunderstood?” The way he talks is set up to fail from the start because nobody wants to hear generalizations; people now need to hear about “the exception” above all else. If one does not frame every sentence as if they were attempting to quote a Pew Research statistic verbatim, then backlash will ensue.
I’m not defending Trump in writing this, because I think his gross misuse of hyperbole further perpetuates the stigma that hyperbole is the enemy, which is something I continually try to fight against. However, his presence in this election also brings this issue to the forefront, and it creates a question for our culture to ask itself:
“What place does hyperbole still have in public discourse?”
However, exceptions are literally the only thing that separates hyperbole from fact. If a statement does not have exceptions, then it cannot (by definition) be hyperbole. Instead, it is simply fact.
If I were to say, “Italians are the best at making pizza,” that is hyperbole precisely because not all Italians are the best at making pizza. The statement is not meant to convey the idea that “no group of people can make pizza better than the Italians,” rather it is simply pointing to the greatness of Italian pizza, and the enjoyment one gets from it. That’s as far as you go with hyperbole. However, if I were to instead say, “Some Italians are great at making pizza,” then does it not stop being hyperbole?
We live in a culture of “facts and figures.” It’s a culture of Business, Science, Law and Math majors. It’s a culture that has less respect for majors like English, History, Art, Agriculture, Philosophy and Religious Studies. Our Christian culture is not exempt from this reality either, because we have a Christian culture that thinks knowing the exact number of times the word “love” is mentioned in the Bible is just as important as what “love” means. We live in a day where when one person says, “Love is mentioned a thousand times in the Bible to show how much God loves you,” another person will reply, “Actually, it’s three-hundred and eighty times.”
When hyperbole becomes “just the worst,” and we “literally can’t even,” we simply miss the point entirely.