Can a person be described as "fugue" or is it reserved only for a state? Can the word be used as a modifier for something other than a living thing's state?

Fugue: (from merriam-webster.com)

a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect them


4 Answers 4


The word fugue is a noun that means a certain state of consciousness.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 30th edition, has this entry:

a pathological state of altered consciousness in which an individual may act and wander around as though conscious but his behavior is not directed by his complete normal personality and is not remembered after the fugue ends. The term is often used to denote dissociative f. specifically.

[Then there is an entry for dissociative fugue, which is an entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association.]

I cannot think of a way to describe a person as a fugue. You could say she was in a fuguelike state. Or her fugue lasted a month.

  • 1
    I have never heard of this definition before, but I would imagine one could say, "She was in a fugue."
    – Jim
    May 23, 2012 at 20:17
  • @Jim: That is how I've heard the word used in this context. May 23, 2012 at 20:33
  • I agree. I have seen the phrase "entered a fugue" used before with similar intent.
    – fmark
    May 23, 2012 at 23:19

I would say of course you can. It's very poetic, perhaps flowery, but you can certainly do this as a metaphor. There are too many examples in poetry to mention. @Gnawme shows an example of this for one definition, but I think it applies to the more conventional meaning too:

He was as much a fugue as the weather: upturned with an energy that blows and shakes but knows nothing of itself.

[Fixed misspelling. :) Not quoted from anywhere; made it up.]

  • (Should the word after the colon be "upturned"? And is this a quote from somewhere? Source?)
    – JLG
    May 24, 2012 at 1:09
  • Many words can be used metaphorically, but this seems beside the point. Cyrano said, "I am going to be a storm, a flame," but that doesn't mean a person can actually be a storm or flame (or fugue).
    – user32047
    Apr 10, 2013 at 12:53

Merriam-Webster gives one definition of fugue as:

fugue, n. : something having a thematic structure that is suggestive of a musical fugue {it was an immense, dissonant fugue in black with incidental color -- Alfred Frankenstein}

I'm not sure how a person would have a "thematic structure suggestive of a fugue," though. Maybe like this:

She was a Siamese twin, a fugue of identical faces sharing a single paisley-clad body.

  • But the OP specified the psychiatric condition is the definition of interest in his question.
    – JLG
    May 24, 2012 at 0:12

"Fugue" is a noun. It is never genuinely an adjective. All the very thoughtful answers here which attempt to create a metaphorical description of a person as a fugue are creative and interesting, but they don't really answer what I take to be the question at hand, namely, can something be described as "fugue?" In other words, is "fugue" usable as an adjective? For example, could you say, "She was a fugue girl?" Again, I say no.

Is "fugue" nevertheless used as an adjective? Sometimes, yes, but it is used that way almost exclusively as mentioned in some of these answers, that is, in conjunction with a state of mind. My opinion is that this usage, "fugue state," occurs because of a tendency to want to clarify "fugue," which is something of an unusual term, even in medical contexts. It is entirely appropriate and correct to say a person entered a fugue, but it is understandable that this "feels" inadequate merely because the word is uncommon. So although a fugue is indeed a state of mind, the word "state" is often (redundantly) appended to it.

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