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March 1, 2020

Character-istically Descriptive

Calling someone “Pollyanna” or being “Pollyannish” refers to the title character of this 1913 Eleanor Hodgman Porter book. Though orphaned and sent to live with her icy aunt, perpetually optimistic 11-year old Pollyanna strives to see the good in everything. In modern usage, however, this term can also imply a naïve optimism.


In Mary Shelly’s classic novel, brilliant young scientist Victor Frankenstein gives life to a humanoid being made of body parts from graveyards, morgues, and slaughterhouses. This clever but vengeful creature of superhuman size, speed, and strength eventually wreaks havoc on the life of his creator and many others. Hence, saying something is a “Frankenstein” or “Frankensteinian” suggests a creation which escapes the control of its creator and brings their ruin, or the maker of such a creation.


A “Faustian bargain” aka a “devil’s bargain,” usually involves trading one’s soul or something else essential in exchange for a less-valuable worldly gain such as riches, fame, knowledge, or power. “Doctor Faustus” was a 1604 tragic play by Christopher Marlowe in which a folkloric doctor makes such a deal with Satan’s agent, with the story later retold in a play by Goethe.