Word Voyage

An Adventure in Language

Hyperbole, Metabolism, and the Devil

We all know hyperbole is obvious and intentional exaggeration. But did you know it maps back to a Greek root meaning to throw? At the root level, hyperbole actually means "(that which) is thrown over." The root has a few different spellings and shows up in lots of words. For example, ball, "that which is thrown"; parable, "a throwing beside, a juxtaposition"; ballerina, "one who throws her body"; and metabolism, "that which throws changes (at the body)."

Roots Analysis Builds Word Curiosity and Comprehesion
If you're a word nut like me, you love roots. But is it important for students to learn roots? Yes, because root words are everywhere and they often describe characters, scenes, and moods. For example: What was the diabolic thing that happened to Mr. Cadaver? (From: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech). Or: At the same time, the thin straight lines of the setting of the eyes, and the thin straight lips, and the markings in the nose, curved with a sarcasm that looked handsomely diabolic. (From: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens). Context clues offer some help, but not enough; the student must engage the word! But what does it mean to really engage a word? Answer: slow down and check the roots!

Look Inside Language
Let's look at diabolic. The root dia means "across", as in diameter, "the measurement across." And then there's bol, the throw root! Something is being "thrown across." But what, and to where? A quick check of the Online Etymology Dictionary delivers the story. Diabolic maps to Devil! To be diabolic is to be thrown or cast from heaven to hell...to be devilish. Bad stuff, but that's the story and the roots led us to it. It's fun to engage new words when you know what you're doing. Roots are the keys that unlock meaning!