I know the suffix '-esque' can be used in the following situations:

Ever since he showed up on the music scene as a marvelously talented teenager, there’s been a hint of Sinatra-esque swagger around Harry Connick Jr. [New York Daily News]


In large part that’s because Bates is brilliant at juggling Kelley’s Capraesque mix of the whimsical and the weighty. [Belleville News Democrat]

with the hyphen optional in most cases. But can '-esque' be used after a phrase? For example:

The super-chicken model follows the ‘David and Goliath’-esque notion that the ones who have succeeded in the past are the ones that must succeed in the future.

If '-esque' can be used after a phrase, what would be the proper way to format it?

  • What do you mean by "phrase"? Do you mean it as in a sentence fragment? Are you using it as in "turn of phrase", or "figure of speech"? – Leafy Greens Oct 18 '16 at 2:59
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    The formatting you have seems quite good. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 18 '16 at 5:57
  • @LeafyGreens I think he just means to use it after something that isn't a single word, as in the example he gave. I think the simple answer is that you can use it almost any way you like, it's an informal use with no hard rules. – Barmar Oct 19 '16 at 22:01

A number of style guides (including The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition [2010] at 6.80) recommend using an en dash (–) to connect a prefix to a multiple-word proper name (as in "the post–World War II years"). And Chicago (2010) also offers an instance of the reverse case involving using an en dash to connect a suffix to a multiple-word proper name: "Chuck Berry–style lyrics." This suggests that Chicago endorses the en-dash connection for a compound adjective consisting entirely of a proper name and a suffix. For example:

a Rowley, Powley, Gammon & Spinach–esque law firm

But "David and Goliath" isn't a three-word proper name; it's two proper names connected with a conjunction. Chicago doesn't reject such compounds when they involve lowercase rather than initial-capped words, but it recognizes the difficulty that lowercase combinations (such as country music–influenced lyrics) pose:

6.80 En dashes with compound adjectives. The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds[.] This editorial nicety may go unnoticed by the majority of readers; nonetheless, it is intended to signal a more comprehensive link than a hyphen would. It should be used sparingly and only when a more elegant solution is unavailable. As the first two examples [involving post–World War II" and "Chuck Berry–style"] illustrate, the distinction is most helpful with proper compounds, whose limits are established within the larger context by capitalization. The relationship in the third example ["country music–influenced"] though clear enough, depends to some small degree on an en dash that many readers will perceive as a hyphen connecting music and influenced.

When proper and common words are intermingled (as with "David and Goliath–esque"), it quickly becomes difficult to tell where the compound string is supposed to start. So even though Chicago says it's okay, I would avoid the form

David and Goliath–esque

Another option, with lowercase or mixed initial-capped and lowercase words is to use simple hyphens to attach all of the related words and the suffix in a continuous character string. For example:

an eenie-meenie-miney-moe-esque decision-making process

Chicago has a brief discussion of this approach:

7.83 Multiple hyphens. Multiple hyphens are usually appropriate for such phrases as an over-the-counter drug or a winner-take-all contest. If, however, the compound modifier consists [in part] of an adjective that itself modifies a compound, additional hyphens may not be necessary [as in the case of "late nineteenth-century literature"].

This guideline appears to endorse the "eenie-meenie-miney-moe-esque" compound cited above. The corresponding form for "David and Goliath" + "-esque" under this approach would be


Yet another option (this one suggested by the OP) is to put the multiple-word phrase in quotation marks with the suffix attached by a hyphen to that. For example:

a "We the People of the United States"-esque preamble

This would give us

"David and Goliath"-esque

All of these formulations engage in a kind of conceptual overreach that many readers are likely to find either charmingly silly or charmlessly ludicrous. At the very least, you can expect such a treatment to effectively distract the reader from the more mundane matter of focusing on what the writer is trying to say, to attend instead to the manner in which the writer has chosen to say it.

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I believe the rules regarding -esque are pretty lenient and vague, though I believe the decision to use -esque itself is already taking substantial liberties.

This essentially covers how I feel about it: Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes - The Chicago Manual of Style Online

Having said that, while I believe this would be OK, a lot of authors would look for alternatives since ‘David and Goliath’-esque is sort of a mouthful.

Also, consider if you care about the ability to read this text aloud. The more words you have before that -esque, the higher the chance that there's going to be some confusion about what exactly that -⁠esque is tied to.

Another idea besides using quotation marks is to embolden:

In so and so's David and Goliath-esque masterpiece, the ladybug and the pear get down to business and the rest is history.

I prefer your way of using the quotation marks, though. My only critique is that it's starting to look like a a piece of code or a math problem (the -esque affects everything in the quotations, like how the six in 6(10+3) affects everything in the parenthesis).

Again, I'd guess that the more serious the author is, the less they'd want to use -esque tied to more than one word (or use -esque at all).

And then there's the other suffixes, "like", "ish", "ian", "borne", which despite having different meanings, I expect the main factor in choosing is typically what rolls off the tongue best. Kafkaian just doesn't look or sound that good, and Kafkian is taking some liberties (but Orwellian, for example, sounds pretty cool). I guess that's not what this is about though.

I'd do it your way. It leaves no room for confusion.

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  • perhaps something could be davidian and goliathesque? (I'm joking) – Some_Guy Jan 16 '17 at 12:56

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