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HYPERBOLE AND IRONY
Hyperbole (Gk. hyperbolē ‘excess’) is a deliberate exaggeration or overstatement of a feature (quantity, size, etc.) essential to the object.
E.g. I am dying of hunger (exaggerated feelings).
Hyperbole differs from a mere exaggeration intended to be understood as an exaggeration.
Y.M. Skrebnev points out there must be something illogical in hyperbole, something unreal, impossible, contrary to common sense.
The logical and psychological opposite of hyperbole is meiosis. It is lessening, weakening, reducing the real characteristics of the object of speech to mean the opposite of what is said.
E.g. It will cost you a pretty penny (a large sum of money is implimed).
Meiosis should not be confused with a variant of hyperbole, i.e. understatement: when the object spoken about is really small or insignificant, and the expression used to denote it strengthens, exaggerates and emphasizes its smallness and insignificance.
E.g. a cat-size pony (= a very small pony), a drop of water (= not much water).
Meiosis is typical of the British manner of speech, in opposition to American English in which hyperbole seems to prevail.
E.g. An English girl and an American girl climb a steep mountain in the Alps. The English girl says: It's a bit exhausting, isn't it? The American echoes: Why, sure, it's terrific!!!
Function. Hyperbole adds dramatic force or attributes a humorous or even ironical sounding.
Many hyperboles have become trite.
E.g. A thousand pardons.
Haven't seen you for ages!
Ironyis based on the contrast between the literal (dictionary) meaning and the intended meaning: one thing is said and the opposite is implied. Irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning (ridicule, contempt) though only positive concepts may be used in it.
E.g. ‘God damn my wife. She is an excellent woman. I wish she was in hell.’ (Maugham)
Very seldom the opposite type of irony where ‘blame stands for praise’ is observed: coarse and accusing words are used approvingly.
E.g. Clever bastard! Lucky devil!
Besides, Y.M. Skrebnev distinguishes 2 kinds of ironic utterances:
explicit ironical, which no one would take at their face value due to the situation, tune and structure; implicit ironical, when the ironical message is communicated against a wider context. In oral speech, irony is often made prominent by emphatic intonation.
In writing, the most typical signs are graphical, like inverted commas or italics.
Irony can be understood from the context without any special graphical indication.
Irony must not be confused with humour, although they have much in common.
One of the functions of irony is producing a humorous effect.
But unlike humour that always causes laughter, that is friendly and positive by its character, irony presupposes critical evaluation of the thing spoken about and expresses ridicule, mockery or contempt.
An ironic effect is frequently achieved by the mixture of styles: the use of the high-flown style on socially low and insignificant topics or in a friendly talk, etc.
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