Word of the Week: Prelude

Word: prelude

Pronunciation: PRE-l(y)ood / PRAY-l(y)ood

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s a relatively common word that every writer should know. Sometimes when writing fiction, you may want to set up the world of your story before diving into the plot. In this case, a short introduction might be a good option to help you set the tone for the rest of your work. For writers and musicians especially, the “prelude” is a handy tool to keep in your arsenal!

A “prelude” is an event or action that serves as an introduction to something more important. The word arose in the mid 16th century and traces back through the French noun prélude to the Latin verb praeludere, meaning “to play beforehand”. This verb consists of the preposition prae “before” and the verb ludere “to play”.

In the context of art, a “prelude” is an introduction to a piece of music or literary work, such as an orchestral opening to an opera act or an introductory part of a poem. The word can also be used as a verb to mean “serve as a prelude or introduction to”. If you need to introduce important events or you like to include opening pieces in your stories or poetry (or have your characters do the same), “prelude” is a good word to know!

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Word of the Week: Materfamilias

Word: materfamilias

Pronunciation: may-tər-fə-MI-lee-əs / mah-tər-fə-MI-lee-əs

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the female head of a family or household

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Happy belated Mother’s Day to those of you who celebrated this weekend! Here’s an interesting new word for mothers who run a household. I learned today’s vocabulary word after looking up synonyms for “mother”, and since I’d never seen or heard it before, I knew I had to write about it for my Word of the Week segment. If you celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday, chances are you either are or know a “materfamilias”!

A “materfamilias” is the female head of a household or family. The word comes from the Latin phrase mater familias, meaning “mother of the household”. This phrase comprises the noun mater “mother” and the noun familia “family”.

Fun fact: the plural form of this word is “matresfamilias”. Though I find it highly interesting for its Latin origin, I doubt I’d be able to find a place for the word “materfamilias” in any of my writing outside of poetry. Given how advanced and archaic it sounds, writers of historical nonfiction would likely find the most use for it, but it may also prove useful to fiction writers who tend to overuse the word “matriarch” in their stories. If you write main characters who are mothers and/or female heads of their households, “materfamilias” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary!

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Word of the Week: Eucatastrophe

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!

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Word of the Week: Insidious

Word: insidious

Pronunciation: in-SI-dee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Bird Chorus: He’s a nasty bird!
Nigel: I’m insidious.
Bird Chorus: He’s ghastly!
Nigel: Oh, I’m hideous!
Bird Chorus: He was a real macaw!
Nigel: I’m a cockatoo!
Bird Chorus: An obscene bird!
Nigel: Yes, that bit’s true.
– “Pretty Bird“, Rio (2011)

Okay, maybe I’ve had a couple of Jemaine Clement songs stuck in my head recently (thanks, Moana), so I felt like sharing a vocabulary word from one of them. The above excerpt is from the full version of “Pretty Bird” from the 2011 film Rio, a song Nigel sings to reveal his backstory to Blu and Jewel and establish his status as the villain. This example may not show today’s featured word in its primary sense, but it’s still easy to understand in context; Nigel is indeed an “insidious” cockatoo!

To be “insidious” is to proceed in a subtle and gradual way with harmful effects. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective insidiosus, meaning “cunning”. This adjective stems from the noun insidiae “ambush”, which derives from the verb insidere “to lie in wait”. This verb comprises two roots: the preposition in “in” and the verb sedere “to sit”.

Aside from its main definition, “insidious” can also be used as a synonym for “treacherous” or “crafty”. This is arguably its most common use in modern speech, though its primary meaning can be just as useful in more formal contexts (such as an “insidious” disease). Either way, you can be sure this adjective always has a negative connotation. If you write characters with a crafty nature or actions that cause harm over time, you may find a place for the word “insidious” in your stories!

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Word of the Week: Terraform

Word: terraform

Pronunciation: TE-rə-form

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: transform a planet so as to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Earth Day was this past weekend, but I’d still like to acknowledge the date one more time with a related vocabulary word. I learned today’s Word of the Week from watching my boyfriend play Elite: Dangerous, a space exploration game scaled to scientifically accurate proportions. Every once in a while, he discovers a water world on his travels through the galaxy, and scanning it will reveal, among other data, whether the planet can be modified to become habitable. These are naturally the most valuable planets when exchanging data for in-game credits; a world that humans could “terraform” would be the ultimate treasure of space!

To “terraform” a planet would be to transform it to resemble Earth, especially with the purpose of supporting human life. This word was coined in 1942 by the science fiction author Jack Williamson, who first used the term in his short story “Collision Orbit”, published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The verb comprises the Latin noun terra “earth” and the suffix -form “having the shape of”.

Given its hypothetical nature, the word “terraform” is especially popular in science fiction, but it does have a place in real science as well. The potential colonization of Mars, for example, is a subject that often ties in with the concept of “terraforming“, as altering the planet’s surface and climate would make it hospitable to human beings. The idea is so fascinating and has so many possibilities, it’s really no wonder that it’s such a popular subject in sci-fi stories and scientific debates alike! If you write science fiction about the transformation and colonization of extraterrestrial worlds, “terraform” is a must-use word for your stories!

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