What does ‘hectic’ mean?

Reading time: Les 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: hectic…

I recently enjoyed a very fine piece of historical fiction, The Gustave Sonata, by Rose Tremain. Set in Switzerland, largely during the Second World War (the end wraps up in more contemporary times), the book tells the story of a young boy’s efforts to deal with his cold and distant mother who has been emotionally paralyzed by her husband’s efforts to assist the Jews.

The book offers not only a compelling plot and skillful, literate writing, but it also gave me my word of the week — in a place I really hadn’t expected it. That word was hectic, which I had always understood to mean “busy” or “rushed” but I discerned another meaning when I encountered this sentence:

The boy’s face was a hectic pink, his eyes big pools of darkness.

This, in fact, was the original meaning of the word — bright pink — from the Old French etique meaning “consumptive,” from the Late Latin hecticus, and the Greek hektikos meaning “continuous, habitual,” referring to continued diseases or fevers.  The use of the word by the Greek physicians came from the idea that fever was rooted in the constitution of the body. The sense of  the word meaning “busy” or “rushed” is from 1904.

My apologies for the photo at the top. It was the closet I could come to pink cheeks —in this case, the result of a makeup brush, not a fever.

Scroll to Top