Word: Lilliputian

Pronunciation: li-lə-PYOO-sh(ə)n

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: trivial or very small

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


I shall personally see to it that the demented, drooling, slime-breathed little Lilliputian who owns this disgusting ribbon will never see the light of day again!
– Miss Trunchbull, Matilda (1996)

Continuing from last week’s theme of Gulliver’s Travels words, today’s Word of the Week entry features another adjective taken from Jonathan Swift’s most famous novel. In the above scene from the 1996 film Matilda, Miss Trunchbull has assembled Miss Honey’s class to accuse one of them of breaking into her house to terrorize her the night before. Her one clue to the culprit’s identity is the ribbon she found outside her house, and though she already knows it belongs to Matilda, she takes her time building up the fear in all the children with a particularly elaborate threat. Harsh as they are, at least one of her chosen words is accurate; compared to the towering Trunchbull, Matilda and her classmates are indeed “Lilliputian”!

Anything described as “Lilliputian” is very small or trivial. The word arose in the early 18th century and was created by Irish author Jonathan Swift for his novel Gulliver’s Travels. This word comes from the name of Swift’s fictional land Lilliput, which is populated by people six inches tall.

Though I first heard the word “Lilliputian” in Matilda years ago, I only recently learned what it means; until now, I assumed it was just another of the Trunchbull’s countless creative insults for children (it certainly sounds like one!). Like “Brobdingnagian”, “Lilliputian” also doubles as a noun (in this case, for a tiny person or thing) and should always be capitalized as it derives from a proper noun. If you write about trivial things or characters who are exceptionally small, “Lilliputian” may be a good word to consider for your stories!

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

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