This Week’s Word: Histrionic
/ˌhɪs triˈɒn ɪk/ [his-tree-on-ik]
Originally a noun used to identify an actor, histrionic is now most often used to describe overly dramatic behavior. It can also be used in a broader sense to describe something relating to actors/acting.
Synonyms: melodramatic, theatrical
Word Facts: Derived from the Latin histrio, later histrionicus, meaning “actor,” the word was adopted into the English language in the middle seventeenth century (just after Shakespeare’s day, otherwise I’m sure he would have used it). It is antiquated to use the word as a noun in substitution of the word “actor”; however, the noun histrionics can now be used to refer to overly dramatic displays of emotion.
While it may sound as though this word is related to hysterical, it is not. Hysterical, from the Greek hystera for “womb,” came into use because it was thought that women exhibiting “hysterical” behavior had something wrong with their reproductive systems (aren’t we glad we live in a more enlightened age). Either way, be wary of describing women as “hysterical” or “histrionic,” as it would probably be deemed as insulting on the SAT (and, remember, the college board isn’t trying to get sued) and possibly prove fatal in real life.
Sample 1: The faded starlet could only be described as histrionic, resorting to dramatic outbursts to get the attention she so desperately craved.
Sample 2: The action of the play Lady Audley’s Secret is entirely too histrionic for a modern audience; however, in the Victorian era, the melodramatic plot of the novel naturally translated to the stage, where audiences of the time preferred to see sensational stories.
Sample 3: The defendant’s complaints were swiftly silenced; Judge Judy does not allow for such histrionics in her court room.