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Re: Figure of speech.

Posted by Bob on June 22, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Figure of speech. posted by R. Berg on June 22, 2005

: : : Does anyone know what the grammatical term is for the following phrases: "She died of boredom" or "he laughed his head off." Clearly the subjects didn't literally do that. I remember learning it in English, but can't remember for the life of me. It's like metaphor, but that isn't it ... please help if you can.

: : Laughing your head off is hyperbole, but I'm going to have to think about dying of boredom ... because I believe it's possible to die of boredom, literally. I've been to Nebraska. I've seen "Tristan und Isolde." I've listened to insurance salesmen. I've stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. True, I'm still alive, but maybe because I left Tristan at the first intermission, after only six weeks of immobile singing.

: "The Careful Writer," by Theodore Bernstein, has a list of rhetorical figures. Among those, hyperbole is the best fit to those examples of decapitation and demise. Hyperbole covers any kind of exaggeration for effect. If there's another name for the specific figure you're looking for (saying his head came off isn't just quantitative exaggeration, it's describing something that couldn't possibly have happened), I don't know what it is.

I sent ESC a copy of "Figures of Speech" a few years ago, and lost my own copy, so let's lob this one into her court.