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!

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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!

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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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