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pi·​ca·​resque ˌpi-kə-ˈresk How to pronounce picaresque (audio)
: of or relating to rogues or rascals
also : of, relating to, suggesting, or being a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a usually roguish protagonist
a picaresque novel


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: one that is picaresque

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What is a picaresque novel?

Picaresque derives from Spanish picaresco, which means "of or relating to a picaro," the picaro being the rogue or bohemian usually at the center of picaresque fiction. The typical picaro is a wandering individual of low social standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, and often relies on wits and a little dishonesty to get by. The first known novel in this style is Lazarillo de Tormes (circa 1554), an irreverent work about a poor boy who works for a series of masters of dubious character. The novel has been attributed to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, but his authorship is disputable.

Examples of picaresque in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
You could be forgiven for thinking that this journey home will be a picaresque riot, a colorful flexing of the collective Pixar imagination, but there’s not much fun in this 13-year-old’s mind. Damon Wise, Deadline, 12 June 2024 Out at Ota’s shack in the woods, things continue to play out like a Beau is Afraid-type picaresque dark comedy of errors for Sato. Andy Andersen, Vulture, 22 Feb. 2024 The sprawling, picaresque story uses 18th-century literary conventions to chronicle the adventures of Ebenezer Cooke, who takes possession of a tobacco farm in Maryland. Brian Witte, Fortune, 3 Apr. 2024 The resulting, often humorous, battle-of-narrators is a formal distraction of sorts—another layer in a carefully balanced work stacked with modes: Gothic mystery, picaresque adventure, psychological study of grief and loss, environmental fiction, a novel about novels. Nathan Jeffers, Hazlitt, 28 Feb. 2024 End of carousel Christian Dior, functionally a counterweight to these picaresque Nazi adventures, spends much of the series anxious, conflicted and stuck. Lili Loofbourow, Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2024 The framing device of a ten-year-old boy (Fred Savage) being read a storybook by his grandfather (Peter Falk) that turns into an elaborate picaresque vision is essentially TV stuff. Armond White, National Review, 7 Feb. 2024 His plots are loose-limbed and picaresque, more Gogol than Turgenev. Patrick Kurp, WSJ, 5 Jan. 2024 The novel turns picaresque when Anna is whisked away to Hollywood on the thin pretense of an Ayn Rand television show. Ryan Chapman, Los Angeles Times, 14 Nov. 2023
An icon of Mexican-American border culture, typified by his heavy usage of Spanglish and bad-mannered pachuco style, Tin Tan melded the picaresque with his inimitable physical humor to become one of the most beloved comedians of his time. Samantha Bergeson, IndieWire, 1 July 2024 The book, a kind of urban picaresque following a sardonic, hyper-intellectual New York lawyer through her career, violent demise, and even afterlife, is the product of an astoundingly ambitious and patient creative process. The New Yorker, 26 June 2024 On the surface, The Sympathizer is a mix of spy story and picaresque. Kathryn Vanarendonk, Vulture, 14 Apr. 2024 Who could achieve this not by appearing in a tragedy but while starring in a toasty picaresque? Wesley Morris, New York Times, 18 Feb. 2024 What ensues among them becomes a picaresque of sorts, arrayed in quills and cashmere. Wesley Morris, New York Times, 26 Oct. 2023 During the preceding hour, Lulu, played by Melanie Griffith, and Charlie (Jeff Daniels) seemed to be embarking on an eccentric picaresque about mismatched lovers taking a zany car ride from Manhattan through Pennsylvania. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 27 May 2022 Ninety-five years later, the novelist Miguel de Cervantes put this adventure novel on the imagined bookshelf of his gallant picaresque dreamer, Don Quixote de la Mancha — a true Californian if ever there was one. Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times, 6 Sep. 2023 The last of the Southern novels offers a variation of a sort: longer and more linguistically ambitious, a rambling picaresque set in Knoxville during the 1950s, revolving around a man who has turned his back on his privileged upbringing to live among society’s forgotten. David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times, 2 Dec. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'picaresque.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Spanish picaresco, from pícaro

First Known Use


1810, in the meaning defined above


1895, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of picaresque was in 1810


Dictionary Entries Near picaresque

Cite this Entry

“Picaresque.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/picaresque. Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


: of, relating to, or being a type of fiction which presents the adventures of a usually rascally character
a picaresque novel

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