Preface: This is a new blog series, unlike anything I’ve done before, in which I will identify words in the English language that are underrated and/or underused in the U.S. Posts will be short and sweet, hopefully helping readers broaden, or liven up, their everyday vocabulary.
adjective: bleak; comparative adjective: bleaker; superlative adjective: bleakest
(of a situation or future prospect) not hopeful or encouraging; unlikely to have a favorable outcome.
“he paints a bleak picture of a company that has lost its way”
When you envision ‘bleak’ you might see a desolate, barren, flat, empty field that extends as far as the eye can see. You’re on the right track. The first definition of bleak is “(of an area of land) lacking vegetation and exposed to the elements.” That’s definitely how I picture a bleak scene in my mind, probably because I just finished binge watching Peaky Blinders (anyone?).
While a description of midwinter is fitting for the word, there are other, more metaphorical definitions – as noted at the beginning of this post – that allow bleak to really live up to its potential.
Bleak remains a popular word in the UK, but has fallen out of use here in the States. We tend to default to ‘depressing’ for describing negative situations. In my opinion, ‘depressing’ alludes to temporariness. There is an end to it. You shall overcome. For example, we are experiencing the dark days of Ohio winter – bitter cold, piles of snow, dangerous ice – but we know it will pass. It’s awful now, but not forever. Ohio winters are depressing.
Bleak is different. It’s more sophisticated, descriptive, powerful. The way it rolls off of one’s tongue it just evokes a feeling of desperation and hopelessness. Bleak is void of all hope and future. Bleak is despair and desperation for eternity.
You’re thinking, “Why do we need to add another sad word to our vocabulary?” Why, to fulfill the American addiction to hyperbolic, metaphorical speech, of course!
Try ‘bleak’ today to help grossly exaggerate daily situations!