Word: eucatastrophe

Pronunciation: yoo-kə-TA-strə-fee

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I picked up from Oxford Dictionaries‘ Word of the Day entries. Every author should be familiar with terms related to the craft of writing, even the more obscure examples. Today’s featured word is one such literary term, specifically a type of conflict resolution to bring a story to a favorable conclusion. When you need a happy ending for the direst situations, sometimes the only solution is a “eucatastrophe”!

A “eucatastrophe” is a favorable and sudden resolution of events in a story, resulting in a happy ending. The word is said to have been coined by fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, who was known to use this device frequently in his fiction. Tolkien created this word by combining the Greek prefix eu- “good” with the noun “catastrophe” (in the sense “the denouement of a drama”), which comes from the Greek noun katastrophḗ “overturning”. This noun comprises the preposition katá “against” and the noun strophḗ “turning”.

As a literary device, the “eucatastrophe” has been subcategorized as a form of deus ex machina due to its common manifestation as a sudden resolution of an impossible problem, though Tolkien argued that this needn’t always be the case. A notable difference between these two devices is that the former stems entirely from an optimistic view of history and the world, that is, the idea that any course of events will naturally lean toward a positive outcome. Given its implausible nature, the “eucatastrophe” is probably most useful to fantasy and science fiction writers who favor happy endings. If your plots often call for a strong twist to save your characters from almost certain doom, you can definitely find good use for a “eucatastrophe” in your stories!

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

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