Definition of deus ex machina
1 : a god introduced by means of a crane (see 1crane 3a) in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome
2 : a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty … the shipwreck, far from being a tragic peripety, is the deus ex machina which makes it possible for Defoe to present solitary labour … as a solution to the perplexities of economic and social reality. — Ian Watt
deus ex machina was our Word of the Day on 04/18/2007. Hear the podcast!
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Did You Know?
The New Latin term deus ex machina is a translation of a Greek phrase and means literally "a god from a machine." "Machine," in this case, refers to the crane that held a god over the stage in ancient Greek and Roman drama. The practice of introducing a god at the end of a play to unravel and resolve the plot dates from at least the 5th century B.C.; Euripides (circa 484-406 B.C.) was one playwright who made frequent use of the device. Since the late 1600s, "deus ex machina" has been applied in English to unlikely saviors and improbable events that bring order out of chaos in sudden and surprising ways.
Origin and Etymology of deus ex machina
New Latin, a god from a machine, translation of Greek theos ek mēchanēs
First Known Use: 1697See Words from the same year
DEUS EX MACHINA Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of deus ex machina for English Language Learners
: a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, movie, etc., and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve
Learn More about deus ex machina
Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about deus ex machina
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