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complicated, confusing, and threatening

Origin and usage

The Austrian writer Franz Kafka died in 1924, and the first recorded use of his name to describe a situation similar to those described in his novels was in 1934. It was not until 1947, however, that the suffix -esque was attached to his surname, forming the eponymous adjective Kafkaesque which is used to describe situations or incidents that are complicated, confusing and threatening.


The characters who inhabit the novels and stories of Franz Kafka are often frightened, confused and powerless, so it is not surprising that his name has become attached to such situations in real life. The adjective Kafkaesque is often attached to nouns such as nightmare, ordeal and horror, as well as absurdity and bureaucracy. Two other frequent collocates are maze and labyrinth, highlighting the confusion felt by those caught up in these types of situation, another common collocate.


“At its best, the digital era is part of the rediscovery of the oral. At its worst, it’s a Kafkaesque victory of the bureaucratic over the imagination.”
(John Ralston Saul)

Related words

Dickensian, Orwellian, Shakespearean

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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