Word: gratuitous

Pronunciation: grə-T(Y)OO-i-təs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition:

  1. uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted
  2. given or done free of charge

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Like other words I find interesting, “gratuitous” has two almost completely different meanings. I tend to see one definition more often than the other, though, probably due to the substantial amount of time I spend surfing through TV Tropes. You may be familiar with such “gratuitous” devices as foreign languages and violence, and if you encounter them all the time, you understand exactly what earned them this infamous label.

Things or actions deemed “gratuitous” are those which are provided freely and/or without good reason. The word comes from the Latin adjective gratuitus, meaning “given freely” or “spontaneous”. This adjective in turn stems from the noun gratia, which means “favor” or “thanks”.

For fiction writers, it’s practically mandatory to know what “gratuitous” means. We need to have a clear understanding of whether certain details in our work really are essential to the plot or if we simply threw them in for the sake of coloring the story (usually in an attempt to please the audience). In the latter case, it’s probably best to discard such unnecessary details. Set those “gratuitous” tropes aside and you’ll be able to tell a good clean story! Good luck!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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