Picaresque? A Peek at 7 Words with -esque
This useful suffix transforms nouns into some of the most colorful and creative adjectives in the English language. Literally meaning "resembling the style of," -esque evokes the qualities of the proper nouns to which it's attached. The French suffix ultimately finds its roots in the Old High German -isc, which translates to -isch in modern German.
When picaresque entered English in the first half of the 19th century, it meant "pertaining to rogues or scoundrels." Soon after its introduction into English, however, it became a satirical genre of fiction dealing with the antics and adventures of knavish-yet-attractive heroes. This term comes from the Spanish term picaro meaning "rogue."
The famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens is the namesake for this -esque word. Rubens is well-known for painting Baroque landscapes, portraits and religious and mythological masterpieces in the 17th century. His work often showcases plump and voluptuous women, and this feature has given Rubenesque its meaning: if a woman is described as Rubenesque, it means that she is alluringly full-figured.
Grotesque comes from the Italian word grotto meaning "cave." In Rome, the basements of ancient ruins were called grottoes, and the paintings on their walls were called grotesques. This term describes fantastically shaped and grouped forms, as in decorative work combining often ugly or bizarre humans and animals. Grotesque first entered English in the 16th century as a noun, though now the adjectival form is more commonly used.
Kafkaesque means "resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka." This 20th-century German writer brought the world such discombobulating works as The Trail and Metamorphosis. If something is Kafkaesque, it often contains surreal, nightmarish landscapes in which characters go through existential crises. These characters hopelessly question the illogical ways of bureaucratic institutions with no hope of escape from the madness.
Burlesque comes to English from the French, which is rooted in the Italian burla meaning "ridicule" or "mockery." Since the 17th century, the term burlesque has been used to describe art, often literary or dramatic in nature, that vulgarizes lofty material or treats ordinary material with mock dignity, all for the sake of laughter.
Named after none other than the famous British comedian, writer, director, producer and composer, Chaplinesque means "characteristic of or resembling the comedy or filmmaking style of Charlie Chaplin." Born in 1889, this celebrated silent-film star started his entertainment career as a clog dancer, moving on to perform in various vaudeville acts before becoming a hero of the silver screen.
The term arabesque originally meant "in an Arabian style," when it entered English in the 1600s. Arabesque designs are exquisitely ornamental and are distinguished by sinuous, serpentine lines or linear motifs. From this, a figurative meaning emerged, and arabesque came to also mean "fanciful." In the realm of ballet, arabesque is the name of a graceful pose in which the dancer stands on one leg with the other leg in the air extended behind.