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

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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 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, "He would have been a pandemic hero in early California, if only his tale were true," 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, "What to Stream: The 1978 Film That Inspired Robert Redford to Found Sundance," 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, "Review: ‘The Lightning Thief,’ a Far Cry From Olympus," 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, "Queen & Slim, a Meme Movie for Black Lives Matter Fans," 27 Nov. 2019 Hendrickson decided to translate Covarrubias after using the Treasure to look up a word in Lazarillo de Tormes, an anonymous picaresque novella sometimes attributed to his father. Julian Lucas, Harper's magazine, "New Books," 25 Nov. 2019 Its astonishing energy comes from the contrast between its perky, picaresque structure and its muscular, high-flying prose. Jesse Green, New York Times, "In Chicago’s Vibrant Theater Scene, Two Tales of One City," 7 June 2019 Predictably, Armbruster's picaresque plot eventually finds a way of thawing the frosty impasse between the two men, but the road to reconciliation is pleasingly bumpy and steep. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'End of Sentence': Film Review | Edinburgh 2019," 30 June 2019 Two lithographs from 1827 by European visitors to Rio, capital of the new empire of Brazil, depict picaresque street scenes crowded with traders, monks, hawkers and slaves. Jason Farago, New York Times, "How Latin America Was Built, Before Modernism Came Along," 18 Apr. 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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, "MeatEater’s Steven Rinella is helping America rethink its relationship with hunting," 23 Oct. 2020 For the first time, women were at the center of the picaresque. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The 47 Best Travel Films of All Time," 22 May 2019 For the first time, women were at the center of the picaresque. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The 47 Best Travel Films of All Time," 22 May 2019 For the first time, women were at the center of the picaresque. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The 47 Best Travel Films of All Time," 22 May 2019 Ibsen’s next work, Peer Gynt (1867), a stunning picaresque that lampoons Norwegian peasant life, provincialism, and greed, was also enthusiastically received. Andrew Katzenstein, Harper's magazine, "The Radical Conservative," 16 Sep. 2019 Ralph Breaks the Internet, like all good picaresques, meanders a bit during its journey, stopping to take several little detours that aren’t strictly necessary. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "Ralph Breaks the Internet is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but for the internet," 21 Nov. 2018 With intricacy and humor, Van der Vliet Oloomi relays Zebra’s brainy, benighted struggles as a tragicomic picaresque whose fervid logic and cerebral whimsy recall the work of Bolaño and Borges. Liesl Schillinger, New York Times, "Brainy and Benighted, Lost in the Books of Bolaño and Borges," 29 Mar. 2018 Can a 21st-century writer of topical take-no-prisoners satires find happiness in the quaint but rollicking form of the 18th-century picaresque? Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: A Boisterous ‘Low Road’ Finds the Potholes in Capitalism," 7 Mar. 2018

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 25 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for picaresque


How to pronounce picaresque (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of picaresque

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

More from Merriam-Webster on picaresque

Nglish: Translation of picaresque for Spanish Speakers

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