Hyperbole vs Idiom
Key Difference – Hyperbole vs Idiom
Although hyperbole and idioms are figures of speech, there is a clear difference between the two terms. In our day to day conversations, we tend to use both hyperbole and idioms. Hyperbole can be understood as a figure of speech used to exaggerate or emphasize a particular thing. On the other hand, an idiom is a group of words that have a literal meaning as well as a figurative meaning. This is the key difference between hyperbole and an idiom. While a non-native speaker can be confused by an idiom due to the figurative meaning that it generates, he can comprehend hyperbole. This is the main difference between hyperbole and idiom. This article attempts to highlight the difference between the two words in detail.
What is Hyperbole?
Hyperbole can be defined as a figure of speech used by most people in order to exaggerate or emphasize a particular thing. This is merely an exaggeration of the reality. Not only in literary texts, but also in the daily conversation we use hyperbole. By using hyperbole, the writer or speaker can not only emphasize a particular fact, but also add humor. However, it is vital that we do not confuse hyperbole with other literary devices. Let us pay attention to some examples of hyperbole.
I haven’t seen Tom from ages.
In the example above, the speaker highlights the fact that she/he has not seen Tom from a long time. It does not mean that the speaker has not seen Tom for ages but emphasizes the fact that she/he has not seen him from a long time.
Remember how I slipped and fell right in front of him, I could have died of shame.
In the second example, the speaker recalls an embarrassing situation that she faced. Once again, here, the speaker says that she could have died of shame; it does not denote that the person could die. On the contrary, it gives the idea that she was very embarrassed at the moment when she fell.
As you can see, hyperbole is used by everyone in day to day conversations to give effect as well as to emphasize certain facts. Now let us move on to the next word, idioms.
What is an Idiom?
An idiom is a group of words that have a literal meaning as well as a figurative meaning. Although it conveys two different meanings, usually idioms are understood in the figurative meaning. For an example, when if someone says, he has kicked the bucket, this does not denote that someone has kicked the bucket as the literal meaning would imply. On the contrary, it denotes that the individual has died.
Although the native speaker can easily comprehend the meaning behind such phrases, a non-native speaker can be confused by the literal meaning it provides. Let us comprehend this through an example.
It was raining cats and dogs.
This is a well-known idiom. A non-native speaker may find it difficult to comprehend exactly what is meant by the sentence. However, a native speaker can easily comprehend that it refers to heavy raining. Here are some more examples for idioms.
Break a leg – wishing a person good luck
Spill the beans – tell a secret
Get into hot water – to get into trouble
Smell a rat – something is wrong
As you will notice, unlike in the case of hyperbole, where the listener can decipher the meaning easily, in idioms it is not very easy unless the person has a prior knowledge. In daily language as well as in literary texts, both are used as figures of speech. The difference between the two can be summed up as follows.
What is the Difference Between Hyperbole and Idiom?
Definitions of Hyperbole and Idiom:
Hyperbole: Hyperbole can be understood as a figure of speech used to exaggerate or emphasize a particular thing.
Idiom: An idiom is a group of words that have a literal meaning as well as a figurative meaning.
Characteristics of Hyperbole and Idiom:
Hyperbole: Hyperbole has an explicit meaning.
Idiom: In idioms, the meaning is implicit.
Hyperbole: Hyperbole is used for exaggeration.
Idiom: Idioms are not specifically used for exaggeration.
Native and Non-native speaker:
Hyperbole: The non-native speaker can comprehend a hyperbole.
Idiom: Although the native speaker comprehends idioms, the non-native speaker can have difficulty in understanding the figurative meaning.
1. “Celebrating gold” by Tyler McCulloch Uploaded by Skeezix1000. [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
2. 478 Plui de chats [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons