The following excerpt is taken from a best-selling vocabulary workbook: Check your English Vocabulary for IELTS

page 52, Q7. The Cornucopian government made this sudden decision to dissuade / rescind / sever diplomatic relations with their neighbouring countries.

The answer is sever.

I admit I had to look up the adjective, Cornucopian. Although I knew what cornucopia meant: the basket or container shaped like a horn (from the Latin cornu copiae, ‘horn of plenty’) filled with the fruits of the land, a symbol representing fertility, prosperity, and abundance, I had never seen the expression Cornucopian government before.

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It seems that a Cornucopian government (it is capitalized in the workbook) believes that mankind is the single most important element in the world; animals and nature exist in order to be exploited by humans. It sustains there can be no shortage of natural resources and any problem that presents itself, e.g. food shortage, can be resolved through either technology or the free-market. The ingenuity of mankind has always met and overcome environmental and social issues.
Encyclopædia Britannica

In order to explain its meaning to my private students, could I say that the USA is currently governed by Cornucopian ideas?

Why is the adjective capitalized in “Cornucopian government”? Should it be? Is the term C/cornucopian used by British or American TV newsreporters, how well-known is it? Does it largely have positive or negative connotations? What would be a more common, more easily understood, equivalent term?

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    I always grow suspicious when the authors of textbook exercises start playing with the language. As a longtime teacher (and sometime textbook exercise-writer) I know the beast too well. Could the intent of the example have been to create a harmlessly hypothetical ruling political party - the "Cornucopian" [dominated] government of Rumtifoo - which could with impunity break diplomatic ties with the Pooflapoo Republic for the sake of a vocabulary drill? (Wars have been fought over less,,,) – Rob_Ster Nov 13 '17 at 20:01
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    Is it possible that Cornucopia is a place? There are several cities in the US with this name, but I'm also seeing it used as a fictional place name used in "Moot Court competitions" (e.g. here and here). – Laurel Nov 13 '17 at 20:27
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    I don't know that I would describe the US as being governed by "Cornucopian ideas." That seems to imply that the forces propelling free-market capitalism in the US are guided by an optimistic faith in technology and innovation, whereas I see anti-environmental sentiment in the US as more of a manifestation of science-denial and short-sightedness. You might say Some conservative voices in the U.S. espouse cornucopian ideas to justify their free-market capitalist beliefs. – RaceYouAnytime Nov 13 '17 at 20:27
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    I would think a Cornucopian government is comparable to a government in Gulliver's Travels or Alice in Wonderland. Or various inventions of sci-fi writers. – Xanne Nov 13 '17 at 21:09
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    Well someone write an answer! – Mari-Lou A Nov 13 '17 at 23:23

Other versions of this IELTS question found on Google Books appear to indicate that it is likely a name of an imaginary country used to create a hypothetical scenario for the question. (See this comment by Laurel who first made the observation).

To end something suddenly and finally. The Cornucopian government decided to _____ relations with Utopia.

This also answers the question about why "Cornucopian" was capitalized, just as one would write "The American government..."

But the IELTS question as worded in the question is confusing to a native reader who might be aware of "cornucopian" in the context of economics and futurism, which as the OP points out, is a real term that refers to those holding a belief that technology will solve problems of resource management and rapid population growth.

The subject is discussed in depth on Wikipedia, with reputable sources linked.

A cornucopian is a futurist who believes that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology. Fundamentally they believe that there is enough matter and energy on the Earth to provide for the population of the world.

A similar technical definition is not found in the OED or other dictionaries that I checked, so I assume that it is a very esoteric term.

In conclusion, I would not recommend trying to explain the term to students learning English beyond perhaps describing how the fictional country name derives from the word "cornucopia," along with any requisite explanation of cornucopias.

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    Thank you, never have I heard Cornucopia used as a fictional place or country, so I will probably use Utopia(n), Lilliput(ian) and Freedonia(n), as more familiar (and more effective) examples. – Mari-Lou A Nov 14 '17 at 6:56

Many thanks to those who answered my question, either in the comments (@Rob_Ster and @Laurel) or stuck their necks out in the answer box as @RaceYouAnytime did. I feel, however, that I need to complete this quest by including a reputable resource that uses the names of two fictional countries that bear no resemblance to any real country or state.

From Michael Swan's Basic English Usage (1984), in the chapter dedicated to the present perfect simple, the following names were used


Utopia has invaded Fantasia -----> War

In the land of fictional countries, the British newspaper, Independent composed a list of the top 50, which included:

Ambrosia, Atlantis, Eastasia, Eurasia and Oceania, El Dorado, Freedonia, Laputa and Lilliput, Neverland, Ruritania, Utopia, Wonderland, and Zubrovka.

P.S. Cornucopia is not listed by the Independent nor in Wikipedia's extensive List of fictional countries

  • El Dorado and Atlantis are fictional?! – Andrew Leach Nov 26 '17 at 10:45
  • @AndrewLeach I don't know anyhing about El Dorado, except for its name, but isn't Atlantis mythical? – Mari-Lou A Nov 26 '17 at 13:12

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