Word of the Week: Gothic

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gothic (in terms of literature) is defined as “of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents.”

In order to understand the origins of the word “gothic”, one must understand the word “goth”. Goth initially means “a member of a Germanic people that overran the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era” (Merriam-Webster). However, the term goth in today’s modern culture means “rock music marked by dark and morbid lyrics” or “a person who wears mostly black clothing, uses dark dramatic makeup, and often has dyed black hair” (Merriam-Webster). Essentially, Goths were a Germanic people during the 3rd and 5th centuries.

Gothic is the adjective form of “goth”, which originates from the word “Gutthiuda” which means gothic people in Gothic. The word is also from the Greek word “gothoi” which is later changed to “gothi” in late Latin. Old English spelt the word as “gota“. All the meanings of these words mean “goth” as in the Gothic people.

With that being said, the word “gothic” in a literary sense does not mean “the Gothic people”. In the modern meaning, gothic leans more towards the definition of gothic as being a written “style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents” (Merriam-Webster).

One of the greatest examples of gothic literature is its originator, Edgar Allan Poe.

Gothic literature was a sub-genre that was created during the same era as Romanticism. Romanticism was literary movement focused on emotions, saturating the senses, and just emphasized the state of imagination during the 18th century. Click here for a full definition of Romanticism.

Author of Note: Edgar Allan Poe

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe from The J. Paul Getty Museum

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer and literary critic who is best known for his gothic literature & poetry during the early to mid 1800s. His short stories and poems contained characteristics of mystery and macabre, which are two key traits of gothic literature, which is also known as dark Romanticism.

Some of his famous gothic inspired pieces are: “Alone“, “To One in Paradise“, “The Raven“, and “Spirits of the Dead“, just to name a few.

Basically, gothic literature is a genre of literature that is characterized by mystery, dark metaphors, and disturbing or horrifying incidences. Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be the “father” and originator of gothic literature (which includes poetry) through his uses of these characteristics in his pieces.


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