Word of the Week: Kafkaesque

Word: Kafkaesque

Pronunciation: kahf-kə-ESK

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Yes, it’s yet another adjective derived from an author’s name! For today’s Word of the Week, we’re focusing on writer Franz Kafka, whose most famous stories centered around commonplace characters navigating a bureaucratic society with little or no reward to make their ordeals worthwhile in the end. Thanks to those stories, today we have a go-to word for the ridiculous obstacle course that is modern bureaucracy: “Kafkaesque”!

“Kafkaesque” describes anything reminiscent of Franz Kafka‘s works. In general, Kafka’s writing is famous for its nightmarish and oppressive qualities. When describing something as “Kafkaesque”, the most common image to come to mind is of unnecessarily convoluted and frustrating aspects of mundane life.

As with the last two vocabulary words derived from authors’ names, the full scope of the definition of “Kafkaesque” is a bit more complicated than dictionaries can sum up in a single line. Fortunately, also as with the previous examples, TED-Ed has the more complex meaning of the word covered with one of their amazingly animated videos, so I’ll just leave that here for your enjoyment. Remember that its origin from a proper noun means the word should always be capitalized. If your stories often feature unnecessarily convoluted plots, your writing itself may be more “Kafkaesque” than you realize!

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Word of the Week: Dickensian

Word: Dickensian

Pronunciation: də-KEN-zee-ən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: of or reminiscent of the novels of Charles Dickens, especially in suggesting the poor social conditions or comically repulsive characters that they portray

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Continuing on last week’s theme of words derived from authors’ names, here’s another adjective that you’re probably familiar with. Today’s Word of the Week comes from the name of Charles Dickens, who was famous for writing stories that shed light on the lower social classes of Victorian England living in poverty and misery. His works were so influential that to this day, any setting involving poor conditions and social injustice can be described as “Dickensian”!

Anything described as “Dickensian” is reminiscent of Charles Dickens‘s writing. As an adjective, the word refers to the poor social conditions and comically repulsive characters in the author’s stories. The word can also function as a noun meaning “a person who studies or admires the works of Charles Dickens”.

Like the word “Orwellian”, “Dickensian” is a more complex adjective than dictionary definitions might have you believe: as the TED-Ed video below explains, while it has a negative connotation when describing settings and living/working conditions, it can also be considered high praise when describing a novel, as it implies a level of wit and creativity akin to that of the brilliant Charles Dickens. Also like “Orwellian”, “Dickensian” should always be capitalized because it derives from a proper noun. If you write stories about miserable conditions and unjust social situations, “Dickensian” is an excellent word to keep on your vocabulary list!

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Word of the Week: Orwellian

Word: Orwellian

Pronunciation: or-WEL-ee-ən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: characteristic of the writings of George Orwell, especially with reference to his dystopian account of a future totalitarian state in Nineteen Eighty-Four

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Speaking of constructed languages like Newspeak, here’s another modern word you’ve likely heard before. Though I’ve been familiar with today’s Word of the Week for years, it was only after finally reading 1984 last year that I truly began to appreciate how relevant it’s become to modern times. Despite George Orwell’s warnings, it seems we’ve become an “Orwellian” society after all!

In a nutshell, “Orwellian” describes anything characteristic of George Orwell‘s writing. Most dictionary definitions of this word specify the dystopia and totalitarian state depicted in the author’s most famous novel, 1984. In a broader sense, according to Wikipedia, this adjective describes “a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society.”

Although dictionary definitions generally imply the word is synonymous with “authoritarian” or “totalitarian”, “Orwellian” is a little more complex than that. Instead of launching into a twenty-page essay, though, I’ll simply refer you to the TED-Ed video below; it’ll tell you everything you need to know about this word. Note that because this adjective derives from a name, it should always be capitalized. If you write dystopian stories that challenge the ideals of a free and open society, “Orwellian” is a good word to keep on your list!

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Word of the Week: Conlang

Word: conlang

Pronunciation: KAHN-lang

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a language that has been artificially created; a constructed language

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s a new word I picked up from Oxford Dictionaries‘ Word of the Day segment. This one is an interesting case of a modern word created to fit a definition that’s existed for centuries. There are a handful of terms for artificial languages, but today you may know them best by the name “conlang”!

A “conlang” is a language that has been created artificially. The word arose in the 1990s with the creation of the Conlang Mailing List. This noun is short for “constructed language”, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a language, such as Esperanto, that has been artificially created rather than having evolved naturally through use”.

Conlangs” generally fall under one of three subcategories: engelangs (engineered languages) are used to experiment in logic, philosophy, or linguistics; auxlangs (auxiliary languages) are used to facilitate international communication; and artlangs (artistic languages) are “just for fun”, created for aesthetic pleasure or humorous effect. Some well-known examples of “conlangs” include:

  • Esperanto, an auxlang with over two million speakers worldwide;
  • Newspeak, the language of the fictional state of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984;
  • Klingon, a fictional language from the Star Trek universe; and
  • Dothraki, a fictional language created for the Game of Thrones TV series based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

A notable derivative of the word “conlang” is the noun “conlanger”, meaning “a person who creates an artificial language”. You may not use the word itself in your writing, but if you write fantasy epics or other complex stories, a “conlang” or two may be a good addition to your fiction!

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Word of the Week: Hiemal

Word: hiemal

Pronunciation: HY-ə-məl

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: of, characteristic of, or occurring in winter

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s a word I’ve had sitting in my vocabulary queue for a while. I first learned today’s Word of the Week about five months ago while watching my boyfriend play No Man’s Sky, where it appeared in a scan description for a planet that turned out to be covered in snow. Though I made a note of it right away, I decided to save the word for a time when it would be more relevant. Think of January and you probably picture snow and ice everywhere (at least if you live in the Northern Hemisphere), right? It’s the most “hiemal” time of year!

“Hiemal” refers to winter or anything characteristic of the season. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective hiemalis, meaning “pertaining to winter”. This adjective derives from the noun hiems, which means “winter”.

It’s worth noting that Oxford Dictionaries characterizes the word “hiemal” as rare; it’s so obscure, in fact, that the spell check on my computer (which uses American English) doesn’t even recognize it as a word! In my opinion, “hiemal” probably works best in poetry about winter, though it likely still works well in prose as a poetic synonym for “wintry”. If you like writing stories or poetry with a winter theme, “hiemal” may be a good word to include in your vocabulary!

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