Is there a term for the use of exaggeration or hyperbole, when it is used to the opposite effect of demeaning or minimizing? This often occurs in informal disagreements.

For example, woman says, You left dirty dishes in the kitchen. A man answers, You make it sound like I'm an axe-murderer!

Neither reduction to absurdity nor straw man quite capture this bit of conversational bombast.

4 Answers 4


Perhaps a "social knee-jerk reaction" may describe your situation with a mundane overtone.

Beyond your search for the "literary" term, ad hominem may be an interesting read for you. This phrase is also categorized under a neat diagram called Graham's Hierarchy of DisagreementGraham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

An axe-murderer refusing to do dish washing sits near the bottom, I must say.


I think you may describe it as an overstatement :

  • something that you say that makes things seem more important, impressive or serious than they really are
  • making something seem more important than it really is: exaggeration, magnification.

A useful expression is also:

make a mountain out if a molehill:

  • Cliché to make a major issue out of a minor one; to exaggerate the importance of something. Come on, don't make a mountain out of a molehill. It's not that important. You wrote one bad essay - it doesn't mean you're going to fail your degree.

Source: www.macmillandictionary.com


The direct opposite of 'hyperbole' ( overstatement) is 'litotes'; deliberate understatement.

In this context though, you've answered your own question. What you're describing is simply hyperbole.



You can also protest by saying some utterance is "over the top" or that it is "excessive," as in, "That's pretty excessive, don't you think? You make me sound like an axe-murderer."

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