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This week's theme: terms imported from other languages.

gestalt (gesh-TALT) noun

Shape or pattern; most often used in psychology to describe a theory or approach which aims to see something as a whole rather than breaking it into separate parts

[From German gestalt (form, shape).]

See more usage examples of gestalt in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

Like a number of terms which are derived from psychology, gestalt has wandered away from its specialist or technical context even if it has not entered mainstream use in the way that "paranoid" or "schizophrenic" have (perhaps because it relates more to a method of approach or treatment than to a high-profile condition). With that said however, anybody employing gestalt in a non-specialist field should ask whether the word does anything that couldn't be achieved by a simpler term.

In the Guardian example below, it might be argued that gestalt suggests the emotional and intellectual switch required to think differently -- in this case, that milk might be bad for you. But the sentence wouldn't really be affected if the word were left out altogether and it's difficult to avoid the impression that the writer has thrown it in to sex up the subject of milk.

-Guest Wordsmith Philip Gooden (pgoodenATgooden.ndo.co.uk)

"So thorough is our dairy indoctrination that it requires a total gestalt switch to contemplate the notion that milk may help to cause the very diseases it's meant to prevent." Anne Karpf; Dairy Monsters; The Guardian (London, UK); Dec 13, 2003.


Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it. -Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (1596-1650)

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