• dystopia •
Pronunciation: dis-top-i-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An imaginary place in which conditions are disastrous.
Notes: Dystopia has been around long enough to have picked up a couple of relatives. Dystopian is the adjective and the personal noun with the sense "one who advocates or describes a dystopia". Dystopianism "the quality of (a) dystopia" has been used at least once according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
In Play: Dystopia is a good word to use for most of the movies emerging from Hollywood these days: "In the movie, The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington plays a man of superhuman principles living in a dystopia that resulted from a worldwide nuclear catastrophe." Unfortunately, real dystopias exist even today: "The people of Syria are living in a hellish dystopia in 2013."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a coinage by a writer based on the coinage of another writer. As noted in Hansard, the official record of the British House of Commons debates, John Stuart Mill coined this word in 1868. Mill obviously created the word from dys- "bad" + utopia "(place of) perfect living conditions". Modern Latin utopia, literally "nowhere", in its turn, was coined for title of a book by Thomas More, first published in 1516. The book told of an imaginary island where life was perfect in every respect. Although More adapted the word to Latin, it originates from Greek ou "not" + topos "place". Topos is found also in toponymy "the study of place names" and topography "a detailed description of a place". The meaning of utopia was extended to "a place of perfect living conditions" in the 1610s. (We hope that Paul Stayert will find this note of our gratitude for suggesting today's Good Word a lenient assuasive.)