A colleague recently asked if I lie when I write my column. He softened the question with the word “hyperbole,” but we both knew what he meant. I responded the way I always do: sadly, never.
To me, there isn’t much difference between lying and exaggerating, but my husband said lying is more sinister. Sounded like hyperbole to me, so I looked it up. A lie is an intentional deceit passed off as the truth; an exaggeration enlarges beyond the bounds of truth. Good thing I’m 30 years beyond verbal SATs, because I’d fill in “same” for that one.
I grew up in an area surrounded by water, mosquitoes and exaggerators. And it turns out, there are many kinds. My father falls under the category theatrical exaggerator. When company was over, he’d tell stories of family outings that were altered with so many embellishments, my sister and I would interrupt, “Wow! Then what did we do?”
My husband’s friend, Dave, is a competitive exaggerator, frequently claiming to pay less or score more than conceivably possible.
“How much would you have paid for this leather overcoat? $350? I got it for 12 bucks.”
“What’s the best you bowled? 210? Not bad. My high score is 700, blindfolded.”
Parents are often incentive exaggerators. Like the time I told my tantrumming daughter in Kmart: “Everyone in the whole store is looking at you!” First of all, that was her goal. Secondly, it wasn’t true. If it were, I’d have put out a hat to collect change, coupons and Starbucks gift cards from sympathetic mothers.
Last July I overheard a fed-up mother in a parking lot lean into her SUV and mutter, “I am NEVER getting you ice cream ever again.” So the plan is that for the rest of her life, her son will never get ice cream cones, cups or cakes from his mom. “Son, put down that ice cream sandwich! You need to learn to get in your car seat.” “Ma, I’m 51.” I secretly hope someday he’s the CEO of Baskin Robbins and gets all the Clown Cones he wants.
Although most exaggerators don’t admit to it, my friend, Rick DeLisi, comes from a proud family of theatrical exaggerators. They’ve even devised acronyms and equations (extreme rounding is, of course, encouraged). There’s the DeLisi Exaggeration Factor (DEF) and the DeLisi Underexaggeration Factor (DUF). The calculation: multiply (DEF) or divide (DUF) the fact by 8 to 12, depending on time of day, enthusiasm of audience and number of, er, beverages consumed.
•“The kids rode Space Mountain five times.”
•DEF: “The kids went nuts at Disney World—they went on Space Mountain 50 times!”
•“The Chinese restaurant has outstanding service. It only took 10 minutes for dinner to arrive.”
•DUF: “I ordered the food and it was on the table before I walked in!”
I contacted Sue, the DeLisi family matriarch and exaggeration factor founder, for more on the theory.
“DEF is making a story even better than it actually is. There must always be a seed of truth involved, and it must always be for entertainment. And I think that that’s perfectly allowed since it’s not a fib or a lie, but merely a DEF. We’ve been doing it for many years and it takes that long to perfect it, ergo, we’re so good at it. Matter of fact, you could incorporate it into your own family but just change it to SEF. It’s an art that not everybody can do well, but I know that you can.”
I’m going to give it a try as soon as I get back from Baskin Robbins. They have 310 flavors!
[February 3, 2010]
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