English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Can a person be described as "fugue" or is it reserved only for a state? Can the word be used as a modifier for something other than a living thing's state?

Fugue: (from merriam-webster.com)

a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect them

share|improve this question
To clarify, are you referring to this definition of fugue? – JLG May 23 '12 at 18:42
merriam-webster.com/medical/fugue – GBa May 23 '12 at 18:44
Most programs I've written have entered a fugue state at some point or another. – JeffSahol May 23 '12 at 18:47
The word fugue is a noun that means a certain state of consciousness, so I can't think of a way to describe a person as that. You could say she was in a fuguelike state. Or her fugue lasted a month. – JLG May 23 '12 at 18:52
When this "happened" to Walter White in Breaking Bad, they called it a fugue state. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 May 23 '12 at 18:58

The word fugue is a noun that means a certain state of consciousness.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 30th edition, has this entry:

a pathological state of altered consciousness in which an individual may act and wander around as though conscious but his behavior is not directed by his complete normal personality and is not remembered after the fugue ends. The term is often used to denote dissociative f. specifically.

[Then there is an entry for dissociative fugue, which is an entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association.]

I cannot think of a way to describe a person as a fugue. You could say she was in a fuguelike state. Or her fugue lasted a month.

share|improve this answer
I have never heard of this definition before, but I would imagine one could say, "She was in a fugue." – Jim May 23 '12 at 20:17
@Jim: That is how I've heard the word used in this context. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 23 '12 at 20:33
I agree. I have seen the phrase "entered a fugue" used before with similar intent. – fmark May 23 '12 at 23:19

I would say of course you can. It's very poetic, perhaps flowery, but you can certainly do this as a metaphor. There are too many examples in poetry to mention. @Gnawme shows an example of this for one definition, but I think it applies to the more conventional meaning too:

He was as much a fugue as the weather: upturned with an energy that blows and shakes but knows nothing of itself.

[Fixed misspelling. :) Not quoted from anywhere; made it up.]

share|improve this answer
(Should the word after the colon be "upturned"? And is this a quote from somewhere? Source?) – JLG May 24 '12 at 1:09
Many words can be used metaphorically, but this seems beside the point. Cyrano said, "I am going to be a storm, a flame," but that doesn't mean a person can actually be a storm or flame (or fugue). – gmcgath Apr 10 '13 at 12:53

Merriam-Webster gives one definition of fugue as:

fugue, n. : something having a thematic structure that is suggestive of a musical fugue {it was an immense, dissonant fugue in black with incidental color -- Alfred Frankenstein}

I'm not sure how a person would have a "thematic structure suggestive of a fugue," though. Maybe like this:

She was a Siamese twin, a fugue of identical faces sharing a single paisley-clad body.

share|improve this answer
But the OP specified the psychiatric condition is the definition of interest in his question. – JLG May 24 '12 at 0:12

"Fugue" is a noun. It is never genuinely an adjective. All the very thoughtful answers here which attempt to create a metaphorical description of a person as a fugue are creative and interesting, but they don't really answer what I take to be the question at hand, namely, can something be described as "fugue?" In other words, is "fugue" usable as an adjective? For example, could you say, "She was a fugue girl?" Again, I say no.

Is "fugue" nevertheless used as an adjective? Sometimes, yes, but it is used that way almost exclusively as mentioned in some of these answers, that is, in conjunction with a state of mind. My opinion is that this usage, "fugue state," occurs because of a tendency to want to clarify "fugue," which is something of an unusual term, even in medical contexts. It is entirely appropriate and correct to say a person entered a fugue, but it is understandable that this "feels" inadequate merely because the word is uncommon. So although a fugue is indeed a state of mind, the word "state" is often (redundantly) appended to it.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.