Etymologies

Peripeteia (pair-uh-puh-TEE-uh)-a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation especially in a literary work.

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“Peripeteia” comes from Greek, in which the verb “peripiptein” means “to fall around” or “to change suddenly.” It usually indicates a turning point in a drama after which the plot moves steadily to its denouement. In his Poetics, Aristotle describes peripeteia as the shift of the tragic protagonist’s fortune from good to bad–a shift that is essential to the plot of a tragedy. The term is also occasionally used of a similar change in actual affairs. For example, in a June 7, 2006 article in The New York Times, Michael Cooper described William Weld’s second term as Massachusetts’ governor as “political peripeteia”: it “began with a landslide victory and ended with frustrated hopes and his resignation.”

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