Printable Version
Pronunciation: bil-dungz-ro-mahn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Coming-of-age novel or movie, a novel or movie explaining the personality of an adult by tracing it through his or her formative years, upbringing.

Notes: Since this word is obviously German, the usual plural of it is the German plural, bildungsromane. While it has no derivational relatives, it does have a compound. The hero of a bildungsroman is a bildungs-hero, less often bildungsroman-hero.

In Play: English literature has produced many famous bildungsromane: The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce are prominent among them. There do exist limitations on how far we can stretch the definition of this word: "Rhoda Book is calling her new publication about training her dog a bildungsroman."

Word History: The term was coined in 1819 by philologist Karl Morgenstern in his University of Dorpat lectures. The word is formed of Bildung "formation, education" + Roman "novel". Bildung comes from Old Germanic bilidon "to shape, form" from bilodi "a shape, form". It probably shares a source with English building, a double suffixed form of PIE bheu- "to be; to grow", source also of English be. Roman was borrowed from Old French romanz "romance", inherited from Vulgar (street) Latin romanice scribere "to write in the vernacular", that is, ordinary medieval Latin rather than Frankish. This word is a Vulgar Latin remodeling of Latin romanicus "Roman", but by the Middle Ages it referred to a story of the adventures of a knight, lord, or some other hero, written principally for entertainment. (Gratitude today is due newcomer Wendy Petera for sharing today's fascinating German Good Word with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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