The question is inspired by the today's announcement of the Nobel prize awards in Literature for 2018 and 2019.

The short description for Olga Tokarczuk has been worded as follows:

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 was awarded to Olga Tokarczuk "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life." Source

The expression encyclopedic passion sounds really odd both to me and to the author of this question on Literature.SE: Understanding this year's Nobel prizes, which, in fact, inspired me to ask for help on English.SE.

I will simply quote one paragraph from this question:

I can't make sense of terms like "encyclopedic passion". "Encyclopedic knowledge" is a common phrase that I understand. Encyclopedias are the books where one finds the most knowledge. So this term makes sense to describe someone who has vast knowledge. But I do not understand the relationship between encylopedias and passion.

Collins Dictionary, for example, gives:

adjective [usually ADJECTIVE noun]
If you describe something as encyclopedic, you mean that it is very full, complete, and thorough in the amount of knowledge or information that it has.


encyclopedic in British
or encyclopaedic (ɛnˌsaɪkləʊˈpiːdɪk)


  1. of, characteristic of, or relating to an encyclopedia
  2. covering a wide range of knowledge; comprehensive

So, how exactly shall one interpret (perceive, digest) encyclopedic passion?

  • 3
    Since when did "lit crit" have to make any sense? :)
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 10:34
  • It's garbletalk like "conversation around". From context, it appears to mean "doubleplus good". Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 19:29
  • encyclopedic ame, encyclopaedic bre Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 5:49

5 Answers 5



If you have a passion for something, you have a very strong interest in it and like it very much.

  • She had a passion for gardening. [+ for]

  • Anton has a consuming passion for science

(Collins Dictionary)


Embracing many subjects; comprehensive:

  • an ignorance almost as encyclopedic as his erudition” ( William James )


comprehending a wide variety of information; comprehensive:

  • an encyclopedic memory.


An encyclopedic passion > a passion for a wide range of knowledge.

  • 4
    I agree, +1. See my related answer on Lit.se as well. I think that the word "encyclopedic" is very important, too: "encyclopedic knowledge" implies "lots of knowledge about lots of different topics," so "encyclopedic passion" would imply lots of passion about lots of different topics. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 21:11
  • 1
    "An encyclopedic passion > a passion for a wide range of knowledge" I agree that is what was intended, but the original does not say "knowledge"; you invented that yourself.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 22:53
  • @GEdgar - encyclopedic - “covering a wide range of knowledge; comprehensive” Collins Dictionary
    – user 66974
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 23:06
  • Could you give another example of "[adjective] passion" where the current usage implies the meaning "passion for [adjective] things" ?
    – loonquawl
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 7:14
  • @loonquawl - what is that you find difficult to understand? The expression is quite intuitive.
    – user 66974
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 8:00

Merriam-Webster has perhaps the most useful and broadest definition:


of, relating to, or suggestive of an encyclopedia or its methods of treating or covering a subject : COMPREHENSIVE

an encyclopedic mind

an encyclopedic collection of armor

So 'encyclopedic passion' is probably intended to be read as a wide-ranging, catholic spread of things in which a deep interest is taken. In a less formal register, being 'into everything'.

  • 1
    This is the danger of coining new phrases with existing words.
    – David M
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 2:45
  • @DavidM This is the beauty of being able to coin new phrases. Practically all of language evolved using metaphors like this.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:36
  • @Barmar It was a reference to a comment by Edwin on a post of mine. english.stackexchange.com/a/514457/59527
    – David M
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:38
  • Humpty Dumpty was a crypto-descriptivist. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:43

I get the same feeling as you. The use of encyclopedic with passion is a bit odd.

The meaning I would ascribe to it is that Olga Tokarczuk has a passion for encyclopedias and that her bookshelves are groaning under the weight of the various editions of Chambers' Cyclopedia or Diderot's and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie she's been patiently collecting over the years. For all I know, that could be it, bibliomania comes in many forms, but I doubt it.

They would have been better off saying she has a passion for knowledge but the phrase is a bit clichéd and the Stockholm luminaries probably wanted to avoid it.

  • I don’t think that encyclopedic here is literal, it does not refer to a supposed passion for encyclopedias. It is simply figurative, like in encyclopedic memory, encyclopedic mind etc.
    – user 66974
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 8:53
  • 1
    @user067531 I understand. "Encyclopedic passion" meaning passion for everything. That poor woman must be exhausted at the end of the day !
    – grandtout
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 9:02
  • Just as "encyclopedic" is not intended literally, neither is "passion". They're both a bit of hyperbole.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 18:37

This is amusing. It is the kind of word a child might choose from a dictionary or thesaurus before has acquired a deep knowledge of the language he is using. I doubt that this is the case however. My thesaurus gives comprehensive as an alternative for encyclopedic. That is an appropriate adjective for knowledge but not for the list of vegetables in a garden or for a butterfly collection and certainly not for anybody's passion. We know what the writer meant so let us smile and move on.

  • :) I was planning to expand the question and ask for comments/analysis on imagination that ... represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life bit... I don't think it's worth it, though.
    – tum_
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 9:40

This is bad choice of word because "passion" is to do with emotions or affect whereas "encyclopedic" has to do with knowledge or instruction. Word meanings do change over the centuries but gradually and not because an individual is not fully conversant with the language used. Did Humpty Dumpty write that. Remember him from Alice in Wonderland? “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone , “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

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