pi·​ca·​resque | \ ˌpi-kə-ˈresk How to pronounce picaresque (audio) , ˌpē- \

Definition of picaresque

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: 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



Definition of picaresque (Entry 2 of 2)

: one that is picaresque

What is a picaresque novel?


Picaresque derives from Spanish picaresco, which means "of or relating to a picaro." What is a picaro? This word, which also derives from Spanish, means "rogue" or "bohemian." "Picaro" describes a type of character that has long been a popular subject for fictional narrative. Typically, the picaresque novel centers around a wandering individual of low standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, often relying on his wits and a little dishonesty to get by. The first known novel in this style is Lazarillo de Tormes (ca. 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: Adjective Fielding's is a picaresque novel, an early literary genre which focuses on a roguish but lovable underdog hero on a series of adventures. Emma Dibdin, Town & Country, 9 Sep. 2021 In a picaresque life, Ms. Ginsberg lived in New York City, Switzerland, Israel and Ecuador. Annabelle Williams, New York Times, 26 Aug. 2021 Jim Harrison reviewed this picaresque tale of a young writer on the brink of success for The Times — and loved it. Tina Jordan, New York Times, 26 Mar. 2021 There are picaresque detours, slapstick-heavy set pieces and a thick veneer of corporate-culture satire, mostly aimed at the Great Beyond’s overseers, each one a marvel of translucent forms and squiggly lines. Justin Chang Film Critic, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2020 After Cabortes throws him out, Pattie makes his way to Monterey and has more picaresque adventures, including taking part on both sides of a minor civil war. Gary Kamiya, SFChronicle.com, 1 May 2020 Pennell tells this meandering, local picaresque tale with low-key emotions that rise very high through his distinctive eye for idiosyncratic behavior (as in the very first scene, of Frank sleeping off a bender on Lloyd’s pool table). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2020 Once the plot requires Percy to go on a picaresque quest to retrieve the titular lightning bolt, with Annabeth and a satyr named Grover (Jorrel Javier) in tow, the storytelling and songwriting become hectic and monotonous. Jesse Green, New York Times, 16 Oct. 2019 Every classic ’70s road movie offered a picaresque survey of cultural differences that illustrated the multiplicity of American life. Armond White, National Review, 27 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Granados crafts a picaresque of art galleries, SoHo lofts, and Hamptons mansions, deftly satirizing the wealthy without denying the value of what wealth can buy: gorgeous clothes, superb champagne, easy confidence. The New Yorker, 18 Oct. 2021 That notion of American openness, of ever-fractalizing free will, coming up against the fickle realities of fate is the tension that powers Towles’ exciting, entertaining and sometimes implausible picaresque. Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times, 5 Oct. 2021 The Summer Thieves is a picaresque adventure modeled on the work of Jack Vance. Geek's Guide To The Galaxy, WIRED, 20 Aug. 2021 This parodic picaresque finds Sturges at the zenith of his formidable powers to abrade and delight. Washington Post, 31 July 2021 Diaghilev drew inspiration for The Three-Cornered Hat from a picaresque novel by Spanish writer Pedro de Alarcón. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 July 2021 As chaos descended, her family scattered, and Kukielka embarked on a series of darkly picaresque adventures. BostonGlobe.com, 15 Apr. 2021 His long-suffering, vegetarian girlfriend, Diana, is along for the ride, and the story is a freewheeling picaresque rich with character and joyful writing. Oliver Staley, Quartz, 23 Oct. 2020 For the first time, women were at the center of the picaresque. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, 22 May 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'picaresque.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of picaresque


1810, in the meaning defined above


1895, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for picaresque


Spanish picaresco, from pícaro

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The first known use of picaresque was in 1810

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Cite this Entry

“Picaresque.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/picaresque. Accessed 7 Dec. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of picaresque

: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character

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Nglish: Translation of picaresque for Spanish Speakers


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