Mammoth Memory

Example of how to match effects with language features

Let’s say you’ve spotted a Pretending feature, which turns out to be hyperbole (exaggeration):

I had the shock of the century – you could have knocked me down with a feather. Suddenly, it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, and you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.


“I had the shock of the century!”

The examples of hyperbole in this piece are:

  • Shock of the century
  • You could have knocked me down with a feather (meaning the narrator was greatly surprised by something)
  • You could have heard a pin drop
  • You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.


Some of these are clichés (overused expressions), but what we are interested in are the effects they have on the reader.

  • Do they help you understand?
  • Do they help you to sense the atmosphere?
  • Do you respond to them?
  • Do they help you remember something?


The answer is probably “Yes” in every case.

They help you understand because they show, for instance:

  • The magnitude of the surprise experienced by the narrator
  • What the atmosphere was like as the significance of the shock was realised: tense and unfriendly


They help you sense the scene because they show:

  • The quietness that followed the shock – “You could have heard pin drop”
  • The fact that you could have “cut the atmosphere with a knife” suggests a very tense situation – perhaps other characters are present, who might later have some response to the shock


They most likely make you respond:

  • Inquisitiveness: You want to know more – what was this shock and what does it mean for the narrator and any others involved?
  • Alarm: Something has happened that might completely change the course of events


They help you remember:

  • Rather than being an event that will soon be forgotten, the use of hyperbole makes it something you are more likely to remember.
  • You might be reminded of a shocking event in your own life when everyone went quiet and the atmosphere was very tense.
More Info