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I am not very clear about the meaning of the phrase "stranger-than-fiction" from the novel "Waterland" that was written by Graham Swift.

http://www.fiction2.com/waterland-online-graham-swift?page=0,2

But I didn’t take up this offer. Because, as it happened, you listened, you listened, all ears, to those new-fangled lessons. You listened to old Cricky’s crazy yarns (true? made up?) – in a way you never listened to the stranger-than-fiction prodigies of the French Revolution.

What's the meaning of the phrase "stranger-than-fiction"? Is it an adjectival phrase?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, NVZ, choster, Dan Bron, Scott Aug 31 '16 at 4:37

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  • I'm surprised you have a problem with stranger-than-fiction, but not apparently with the use of prodigies here. I just had to check the full OED to discover that it can be used negatively of abnormal / abhorrent things / events, as well as positively in respect of exceptionally gifted people. But it shouldn't have been hard for you to find references to the saying truth is stranger than fiction online. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '16 at 15:34
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  • @FumbleFingers Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. – Li Xiaodong Aug 31 '16 at 2:24
  • @choster Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. – Li Xiaodong Aug 31 '16 at 2:24
  • Its use in fiction as an excuse for introducing an improbable co-incidence is known as "lampshade hanging" or "lampshading". See tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging – Paul Johnson Sep 2 '16 at 16:57
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The phrase is a part-quote, the original being:

Truth is stranger than fiction.

The meaning is:

Sometimes what actually happens is more bizarre than anything that could have been imagined.

Applying 'stranger-then-fiction' as an adjective would imply that what is described is true, but more bizarre than anything you might have imagined to be the case.

The quote dates back to at least 1833.

  • Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. – Li Xiaodong Aug 31 '16 at 2:25
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Yes, stranger-than-fiction is an adjectival phrase. Here it is describing the prodigies of the French Revolution.

Fiction stories, being untrue often depict happenings, people, etc that do not normally occur, and thus are strange. So, when you describe something as stranger than fiction you are pointing out that it's so odd it's not believable.

  • Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. – Li Xiaodong Aug 31 '16 at 2:27
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"Stranger-than-fiction" means that something is stranger than fiction. i.e. strange things may happen in fiction (where the only limit is the author's imagination), but this non-fiction thing/event is even stranger.

Yes, it is an adjectival phrase. "stranger-than-fiction" is an adjective modifying the "prodigies of the French Revolution".

  • Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. – Li Xiaodong Aug 31 '16 at 2:26
  • Hi @LiXiaodong - Please feel free to upvote all answers that were helpful, and if one is good enough to be a complete answer to your question, you can assign it the green tick as your selected answer. – AndyT Aug 31 '16 at 8:21

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