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The term "Pollyanna" came into the lexicon with the 1913 publication of Pollyanna, a novel by Eleanor H. Porter. The name has come to mean

A person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic.

(By the way, the term echoes Voltaire's Pangloss, a character from Candide "who views a situation with unwarranted optimism.")

The term is used in the following way:

"Only a Pollyanna would think the climate change problem will solve itself over time."

I've wracked my brain to come up with a correspondingly pessimistic term, based on a character in literature, but I'm coming up empty. Yet it feels like there must be such a name just beyond the veil of cobwebs blocking my memory. Any ideas?

The term must involve a character from literature, and must be in a form that would fill in the following blank:

"Only a _______ would think human beings can't figure out a way to solve the issues that we face."

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Mar 5 '20 at 14:56
  • Hmm... That's shifted a bit from Pollyanna's philosophy of finding something to be glad about in every situation, no matter how bleak it may be. Mar 5 '20 at 17:04
75

Eeyore is a pretty popular name to use in this context.

Eeyore is a character in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Milne. He is generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey who is a friend of the title character, Winnie-the-Pooh.

TVTropes names its depressed character trope "The Eeyore", and calls it "the polar opposite of The Pollyanna".

For example: 1 | 2

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  • 4
    It's not in many dictionaries but the OED has an entry for Eeyore defined as "A pessimistic, gloomy, or habitually disconsolate person, likened to the Winnie-the-Pooh character Eeyore." - "Eeyore, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2020. Web. 4 March 2020.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 4 '20 at 15:46
  • 6
    Don't worry about me, I can click the link and go there by myself.
    – Tony Ennis
    Mar 5 '20 at 19:48
  • Upon reading the question, Eeyore was the word which sprung to mind. It fits perfectly. Mar 6 '20 at 8:51
38

It's not quite the opposite of Pollyanna but you might want to look at Cassandra from Greek mythology. See: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassandra_(metaphor)

Cassandra was cursed with the gift of prophecy (generally of the doom and gloom pessimistic variety) but she was also cursed so that no one would take her seriously.

The phrase "Cassandra complex" is in current (if somewhat obscure) usage to describe a person prone to making dire and pessimistic predictions, especially ones that no one else takes seriously. See: https://www.learning-mind.com/cassandra-complex/

So if you want a female literary character who makes pessimistic pronouncements who's viewed as "foolish" (as no one takes her seriously), "Cassandra" may be your best bet.

There are other phrases that connote a pessimistic outlook, and one of these also has a feminine bent to it. A "negative Nancy" (sometimes modified to "negative Nelly") is a person who's endlessly pessimistic about everything. I'm not sure about the etymology.

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    I thought that too. The twist on Cassandra is that she's not entirely pessimistic - she's a realist in a world of Pollyannas. Which for climate change is depressingly accurate.
    – Graham
    Mar 5 '20 at 8:36
  • 2
    @Graham Fair point, which is why I tried to include those nuances in the answer. While a Pollyanna would be inclined to have a falsely positive view of a situation, a Cassandra would be inclined to have a truly negative view of the same. And the latter view would be realistic (hence "true") in keeping with the nature of Cassandra's prophetic gift/curse.
    – Deepak
    Mar 5 '20 at 9:02
  • 4
    There's a bit of a contrast, because Pollyanna applies to being optimistic and hopeful no matter if these hopes actually get fulfilled or not, but Cassandra is applicable if and only if the predictions are actually accurate and become true. If someone objects to Cassandras gloomy predictions, they're being overly optimistic, because Cassandra's prophecies aren't just realistic (i.e. possible and plausible) but reflect what will happen.
    – Peteris
    Mar 5 '20 at 15:34
  • 2
    I actually think that Cassandra is exactly the canonical "opposite" of Pollyanna, and a quick google of "Cassandra or Pollyanna" shows many references in essays and literature. Eeyore is depressive and pessimistic at a personal level but Cassandra is open-eyed to risks at a strategic level, so they're kind of in different spheres.
    – CCTO
    Mar 6 '20 at 16:25
33

“Debbie Downer” is another option, similar to Negative Nancy.

Definition: https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/debbie-downer/

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  • this was my first thought. Good also in terms of a true parallel because they're both girls' names
    – Stephen R
    Mar 6 '20 at 19:01
  • Coincidentally, they resurrected the Debbie Downer character on this past weekend's Saturday Night Live.
    – Barmar
    Mar 9 '20 at 17:08
17

A pessimistic person, who always says that bad things are going to happen, is sometimes called a Jeremiah.

In the Jewish and Christian religions, Jeremiah is recognised as being a 6th Century BCE Hebrew prophet who said that Jerusalem would be defeated and that God would become angry with the Jews and punish them. The Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible contains his prophecies (prophecy).

[Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English; modified]

Jeremiah ... 2: person who is pessimistic about the present and foresees a calamitous future

[Merriam-Webster]

Jeremiah (and God) often get a rather bad press; the state of the nation was inviting disaster. And the name Jeremiah itself in Hebrew means 'God will exalt!'

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  • 4
    The related word jeremiad, meaning a doom-and-gloom complaint about the future, is perhaps marginally better known than the use of Jeremiah as an descriptive noun. Mar 5 '20 at 22:26
8

A "Gloomy Gus" works as a particularly pessimistic, unhappy, depressed or, well, gloomy person. It originates from the early 20th century Happy Hooligan cartoons.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Gloomy%20Gus

5

Chicken Little is now the most common term in English. As cited in the Wikipedia article, this character has been a feature of folk tales stretching back into prehistory.

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    Chicken Little is more a story of someone massively overreacting and trying to raise awareness of what they perceive to be a big issue (eg: The sky is falling). See also: Fearmongering Mar 5 '20 at 13:15
3

There is Dismal Jimmy from British slang but it is not common like Pollyanna.

MW defines as:

a man noted for depressing pessimistic predictions and frame of mind

Apparently, it was a nickname for King James II:

Influenced in his decision by his wife, Anne Hyde, who had previously converted to Catholicism, James, "Dismal Jimmy" as Nell Gwynne was known to mockingly refer to him...

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/stuart_3.htm


’Dismal Jimmy’ – Scottish nickname for King James II

https://www.britroyals.com/kings.asp?id=james2

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I think Doubting Thomas, a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience, a reference to the Apostle Thomas would work well.

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    I'm not sure this fits. A Doubting Thomas is someone who lacks faith. A "Pollyanna" is an eternal optimist
    – Machavity
    Mar 5 '20 at 19:52
  • @Machavity A doubting Thomas is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience. Mar 5 '20 at 19:54
  • 1
    Yes, but I'm still not sure how that connects to Pollyanna. Her shtick was the "glad game" where they had to find something good in everything. That's not faith, that's optimism
    – Machavity
    Mar 5 '20 at 19:57
  • @Machavity Completely agree. This is not a good fit
    – Kevin
    Mar 5 '20 at 20:00
0

I'll vote for Marvin, the robot from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

He is a caricature of depressing thoughts and would fill the role pretty well. The story is widely known, so there is a high chance of people recognizing him even in international context.

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    No, Marvin hasn't made it into an idiom yet. And without context, Marvin is just a name like any other.
    – Mr Lister
    Mar 6 '20 at 13:53
  • Maybe not a Marvin, but a Paranoid Android certainly. It doesn't quite fit in the example though: "Only a paranoid android would think human beings can't figure out a way to solve the issues that we face.". Hmm, maybe it does !
    – Neil
    Mar 6 '20 at 14:12
  • @MrLister Okay, I see why "Marvin" alone is insufficient in this case. Would "Marvin the robot" be more suited?
    – Chaoskatze
    Mar 6 '20 at 15:59

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