What does ‘afflatus’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: afflatus…

I’ve been reading a lot about Ayad Akhtar lately. An American-born playwright, novelist, and screenwriter of Pakistani heritage who received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His work has received two Tony Award nominations for Best Play and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A recent article in the New Yorker, gives a more detailed description of his life and ideas. Meanwhile, I am reading Akhtar’s most recent book, Homeland Elegies. 

He has an excpetionally rich vocabulary and I’ve already noted several new-to-me words for this column. The most recent is afflatus. Here is how Akhtar used it:

[He saw] a vision of himself impossibly enhanced, improbably enlarged, released from the pull of debt or truth or history, a man delivered from consequence itself into pure self-absorption incorporated entirely into the individualist afflatus of American eternity?

Afflatus is a noun referring to a strong creative impulse, especially as a result of divine inspiration. The etymology of the word is Latin, coming from afflatus, meaning, “a breathing upon, blast.” The original word was adflatu, made up of ad and flatus — meaning “to be blown upon” by a divine wind. This makes it roughly related to the English word “inspiration,” which comes from “inspire,” meaning to breathe/blow onto.

In Romantic literature, afflatus was used to describe mystical poetic inspiration such as the story offered by Samuel Coleridge to describe  his composition of the poem Kubla Khan.

(According to Coleridge, he composed the 54-line work while under the influence of laudanum. Coleridge believed that several hundred lines of the poem had come to him in a dream, but he was able to remember only a fragment after waking.)

You can read the entire poem here.

Scroll to Top