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Word of the Week: Gentrification

Word: gentrification

Pronunciation: jen-trə-fə-KAY-sh(ə)n

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I picked up from Merriam-Webster’s trending words. Back in November, a coffee shop in Denver came under fire for posting a sign that contained the phrase “happily gentrifying“. While the sign was meant as a joke, the fact that it was placed in a neighborhood once occupied primarily by minorities sparked a lot of backlash from local residents. Considering the word often implies the displacement of poor communities, it’s easy to see why most people wouldn’t consider “gentrification” funny at all!

“Gentrification” is the process of renovating and improving a district or house to middle-class standards. The word is the noun form of the verb “gentrify”, meaning to “renovate and improve (especially a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste”. This verb derives from the late Middle English noun “gentry”, defined as “people of good social position, specifically (in the UK) the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth”.

Aside from its main definition, “gentrification” can also be used on a smaller scale to mean “the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite”. While Oxford Dictionaries‘ definition focuses on the positive side of “gentrification”, Merriam-Webster gives a more elaborate definition that mentions its most common consequence: “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents”. If you write stories about developing areas and the effects of that progress on the local population, “gentrification” is a good word to use in your writing!

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

Word of the Week: Shakespearean

Word: Shakespearean

Pronunciation: sheyk-SPEER-ee-ən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: relating to or characteristic of William Shakespeare or his works

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Last one, I promise! After three consecutive weeks of writing about words derived from authors’ names, I’m capping off a full month of these words with an adjective taken from the name of one of the most famous writers in history! With Valentine’s Day only two days away, it seemed only fitting to end this list with the author behind Romeo & Juliet. Whether you’re describing a play, a poem, an actor, or a time period, there’s no question that some very clear imagery comes to mind whenever you hear the word “Shakespearean”!

“Shakespearean” (alternatively spelled “Shakespearian”) comes from the name of the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. This word describes anything relating to or reminiscent of the author’s works. The adjective generally refers to his plays and sonnets, but can also refer to actors who perform his plays or the time period during which his works were written.

Like the others, this word is more complex than a dictionary definition can sum up in a single line, especially considering how diverse Shakespeare’s subject matter was. While the most obvious definition of “Shakespearean” refers to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets themselves, it also functions as a noun meaning “an expert on or student of Shakespeare’s writings”. Again, like the others, make sure you always capitalize this word because it comes from a name. If your stories include references to the immortal bard’s works, “Shakespearean” is a good word to include in your vocabulary!

Bonus: For examples of clever “Shakespearean” insults, enjoy the following TED-Ed video!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

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!

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

Word of the Week: Jocund

Word: jocund

Pronunciation: JAH-kənd / JOH-kənd

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: cheerful and lighthearted

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops. / I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
– Romeo Montague, Romeo & Juliet (3.5.9–11)

Happy New Year! It’s the first day of 2018, so let’s start the year with one more joyful word! This one is a little more formal—okay, a lot more formal—than the last two I wrote about, but it still works as a synonym for “cheerful”. Even if you don’t normally use formal vocabulary, you may still get some use out of this word; where words like “mirth” and “ebullient” fall short, “jocund” may be a more interesting choice!

Anything or anyone described as “jocund” is lighthearted and cheerful. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin adjective jocundus, meaning “pleasant”. This adjective, a variant of jucundus, was influenced by the noun jocus “joke” and stems from the verb juvare, which means “to delight”.

In case you’re wondering about the above excerpt from Romeo & Juliet, the word “jocund” is being used to create a literary contrast: although morning is typically a pleasant time of day, it brings tragedy to the star-crossed lovers because it means they have to separate. While it seems limited to formal contexts, I’d say the word works well to capture the lighthearted mood in a historical setting, while you may prefer a similar adjective like “jocular” for more modern writing. If your characters are the cheerful and spirited type (and you’ve overused every other adjective to describe them), “jocund” 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?

Word of the Week: Ebullient

Word: ebullient

Pronunciation: i-BƏL-yənt

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: cheerful and full of energy

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Merry Christmas! It’s the last Word of the Week of 2017, and since it also happens to be a festive holiday, I figured it would be fun to end this year’s vocabulary segment with a joyful word! There are plenty of synonyms for “cheerful”, but this one recently jumped out at me for how “bubbly” it sounds. I’d definitely save this one for my most energetic characters; there’s “cheery” and “jolly”, and then there’s “ebullient”!

To be “ebullient” is to be cheerful and full of energy. The word arose in the late 16th century in the sense “boiling” and comes from the Latin verb ebullire, meaning “to boil up”. This verb comprises two roots: the preposition ex “out” and the verb bullire “to bubble”.

Before its common definition arose, “ebullient” used to be a more literal term meaning “boiling or agitated as if boiling”, though this sense has since become archaic and literary. Similar to last week’s vocabulary word, “ebullient” falls on the upper end of the “happiness” spectrum in that it implies a highly energetic level of joy. As a synonym for “bubbly” (both figuratively and literally), it’s very similar to “effervescent“, a word I wrote about three years ago, so feel free to use these adjectives interchangeably. If your characters are usually energetic and enthusiastic, you may have fun writing about their “ebullient” personalities!

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

Word of the Week: Mirth

Word: mirth

Pronunciation: mərth

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: amusement, especially as expressed in laughter

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


The holiday season is in full swing once again, so what better vocabulary word to learn today than one related to joy? As fiction writers, we should always be equipped with a full arsenal of emotional words, but when our stories are set in happy times with plenty of amusement to go around, words like “laughter” and “cheerful” can become overused. It never hurts to know more positive and simple vocabulary, so instead of having your characters “laugh with joy” or “giggle with amusement”, why not sum up their excitement with a word like “mirth”?

“Mirth” is an expression of amusement, especially through laughter. The word comes from the Old English noun myrgth “mirth” and is Germanic in origin. This noun derives from the adjective mirige, meaning “pleasant” or “enjoyable”.

The word “mirth” shares its origin with the word “merry”, which also derives from the Old English adjective mirige. On the happiness spectrum, “mirth” generally refers to joy or amusement as expressed through laughter, as does its adjective form “mirthful”, so these may be good substitutes to turn to if you find yourself overusing the verb “laugh” and its synonyms. If you write jolly characters who often express their amusement out loud, “mirth” is a great word to include in your stories!

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

About J.C. Wolfe

J.C. Wolfe is a fiction writer, biologist, and aspiring novelist of science fantasy and romance. A natural-born American and graduate in Marine Ecology from a university in Brazil, J.C. now writes for a living in California while spending free time blogging and penning stories and poetry.

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