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A.Word.A.Day--roman a clef

What is writing? Distilling your thoughts in the still of your mind and collecting their essence. It doesn't need any fancy devices -- a five-cent pencil works just as well as a $50 gold-tipped `writing instrument'. A beach cottage might not yield a writer any loftier fruits than a tiny room, with a window perhaps, to stare out and do nothing. Ah! What could be easier... or more difficult? In this week's AWAD, we collect a few words from the world of writing.

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(ro-mahn ah KLAY) plural romans a clef Pronunciation

noun: A novel that depicts (usually famous) real people and events under the guise of fiction.

[From French roman à clef, literally, a novel with a key.]

All fiction has a grain of truth, but a roman a clef has it by the bushel. Roman a clef dates back to seventeenth century France. In the beginning, a roman a clef really did have a key that was published separately. In these times, you can simply go on the Internet and search using Google. An example of roman a clef is Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

These days the term can apply to any work of fiction, for example, a movie, not just a novel. A blend term "faction" has also been used, after "fact" presented as "fiction".

"[Geraldine] Brooks has borrowed details not just from Little Women but from the story of Alcott's own extraordinary father, Bronson Alcott, a man whose freethinking, utopian views were all downplayed in his daughter's roman a clef."
Michelle Griffin; March; Sydney Morning Herald (Australia); Apr 2, 2005.

See more usage examples of roman a+clef in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

This week's theme: Words about books


I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does. -Jorge Luis Borges, writer (1899-1986)

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