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October 17, 2011 Word of the Day

  • Aesopian
  • ee-SOH-pee-un


: of, relating to, or characteristic of Aesop or his fables
: conveying an innocent meaning to an outsider but a hidden meaning to a member of a conspiracy or underground movement

What sounded like a friendly greeting from Jerome was in fact Aesopian code warning his partner, who had just entered the apartment, that an uninvited visitor was in the room.

"[Poet Joseph Brodsky] was very different from what might be called the established dissidents of the time -- Evtushenko, Voznesensky, Akhmadulina -- subtle, carefully sardonic, measuredly Aesopian so as to barely dodge the regime's hammer and find a wavering measure of protection in its more moderate elements." -- From a book review by Richard Eder in the Boston Globe, January 16, 2011


Aesop’s fables are well-known. On the surface, they are entertaining stories, featuring animals who speak and act like humans. But they also have an underlying purpose, which is to teach a moral lesson. In the 20th century, "Aesopian" -- which had previously meant simply "characteristic of Aesop or his fables" -- took on an extended meaning. "Aesopian language" referred to the cryptic or ambiguous language authors used in subversive material, often to avoid censorship. This use originated in Russia with "ezopovski," the Russian version of the term. Today, "Aesopian" occasionally means "having hidden meaning" without any implications of subversive political meaning or avoidance of censorship.