Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James Darsey

Second Advisor

David Cheshier

Third Advisor

Mary Stuckey

Fourth Advisor

George Pullman

Fifth Advisor

Graham Walker


Hyperbole has a varied and contentious history, and its forms and functions are largely ignored and dismissed today. Often misunderstood, hyperbole nevertheless offers critical insights into our understandings of epistemology and ontology that cannot go unexplored. In order to recover and reinvigorate a theory of hyperbole within the field of rhetorical theory and criticism, I explore the history of this critical trope from ancient to modern times. I then offer two functions and one meta-function of hyperbole based on this historical survey: moving through impossibility towards possibility, asserting a lie on the side of truth(s), and re-orienting one’s perspective through disorientation. Derived from a historical survey of hyperbole, these two functions and one meta-function are vital for understanding and constructing a theory of hyperbole that is productive and useful for current theoretical discussion. Using these functions, I offer a variety of examples under the purview of the epideictic and grotesque genres and show how hyperbole might be employed within rhetorical theory and criticism. Overall, this project seeks to respond to the gap that exists within current rhetorical theory regarding hyperbole, to explore why hyperbole is often dismissed as a tropological expression of excess and exaggeration, and to revitalize interest in hyperbole for critical use in areas such as rhetoric, theology, and philosophy.


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