You’ve Made it: You’re an Adjective!

Orwellian has become the go-to adjective to describe any situation of seemingly heavy-handed government surveillance or intervention. In a way it’s kind of a compliment, that you produced a work so evocative, so incisive that it comes to be seen as an ideal summation of a specific notion. A part of me also thinks that it’s a shame that those things we usually describe as Orwellian are really only relevant to Nineteen Eighty-Four, and not Orwell’s quite varied body of work.

Kafkaesque is another literary proper adjective (an adjective derived from a proper noun), which is more fitting, as much of Franz Kafka’s work has that sense of an individual dwarfed and alone in a world of uncaring, overwhelming bureaucracy that the adjective describes. If you’re a psychologist you might describe yourself as a Freudian or a Jungian. Much has recently been made of Donald Trump’s Keynesian economic policies.

Sometimes, proper adjectives become so commonly-used that we forget their origin. Though chauvinistic now means excessively or aggressively believing in the superiority of one’s gender, it originally meant being possessed of an immense patriotic fervour, named after Nicolas Chauvin, legendary French soldier of the Napoleonic Wars. Gargantuan comes from the giant Gargantua in Rabelais’ 16-century novel Gargantua and Pantagruel. The same goes for quixotic, derived of course from Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Over time, they became distanced from their origins and lost their capital letters.

How must it feel to become an adjective? Would you feel immensely proud to be so well-known and to be seen to have embodied something so succinctly, that you’re the last word in that area? Or might it be frustrating, feeling like one is pigeon-holed and associated with a single concept, ignoring all of one’s other work? I suppose it’s hard to say, but at least most people don’t live to see themselves become an adjective. Which I  think is probably for the best: despite how flattering it surely is (as long as it’s something positive), it must also be a hard burden to bear.

It’s interesting to thing which contemporary people might get adjectivized. I suspect Trumpian or Trumpesque will be much-featured in future history books, though for exactly what remains to be seen.

11 thoughts on “You’ve Made it: You’re an Adjective!

  1. I have had friends say, ‘well that was a bit Gillyesque’ when someone has done something crazy 😦 Oh well, it is better than being ignored I guess. 🙂 Great post – I actually learned something. I ‘met’ you at Janice’s blog party in case you are wondering where I sprang from! Nice to ‘meet’ you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post on what is one of the most important issues in world poltics today. It has been many years since I last read an Orwell but the appearance of terms like post-truth, alternative facts and fake news prompted me to review the 1984 film adaptation. It holds up remarkably well for a 33 year old film. You are welcome to visit and see how the film stacks up in todays cinematic terms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I really enjoyed your review. I remember when I first watched the film: it was after I’d read the book, and I’d loved the book so much I thought the film could never compare to it. But it really captures the spirit of the book. And it’s incredible that it seems so relevant now, when people can use terms like “alternative facts” unironically.

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