The Hunger Games, Translated

Move over Twilight, another series of young adult books has made its way to the silver screen. The Hunger Games movie was released last month to record box-office sales in North America. The books are set in a dystopian future, another world with its own vocabulary that has drifted away from our own in subtle, but significant ways. Here’s your handy cheat sheet:

Panem: Panem is the totalitarian state that replaced the US after an environmental/societal collapse of unspecified origin. It is divided into 12 districts, plus the Capitol (which is located in the Rocky Mountains, not on the East Coast). As all of you Latin students have probably already guessed, Panem comes from the Latin panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses.”

Hunger Games: The Hunger Games are an annual ritual punishment for the 12 formerly rebellious districts, as well as the “circuses” part of the “bread and circuses” equation. During the Hunger Games, 2 children between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen from each district and made to fight to the death in a gory, brutal version of a reality TV show.

The Reaping: The Reaping is the ceremony in which the unlucky children’s names are drawn. In the novel, heroine Katniss volunteers to take her 12-year-old sister Prim’s place in the Hunger Games after Prim’s name gets drawn.

Tributes: The children made to participate in the Hunger Games.

Tessarae: Hunger is a constant problem in the outlying districts of Panem. To keep their families from starving, poor children are allowed to enter their names into the Reaping more than once in exchange for extra rations. Technically, tributes can come from any social class. However, except for districts where wealthy families train their kids to compete and then encourage them to volunteer, the government’s practice of offering tessarae means that poor kids are much more likely to be selected.

Quarter Quell: Every 25 years, a special Hunger Games called a Quarter Quell is held, and the rules are tweaked to make it even more brutal than usual.

Morphling: A common painkiller much like morphine or heroin. Morphling addicts are also called “morphlings.”

Avox: Someone who has had their vocal cords cut out as punishment for defying the Capitol.

Mutts: Rather than a mixed-breed dog, in the Hunger Games “mutts” are used to refer to genetically engineered creatures, or “muttations.” “Mutts” can be creatures grown in a lab for specific purposes, like monkeys with switchblades instead of claws, or they can be humans who have used had to rely on lab-grown tissue to heal from injuries.

Jabberjays: Genetically engineered birds that are capable of mimicking human speech. They were initially created to spy for the Capitol.

Mockingjays: Mockingjays are a hybrid of jabberjays and mockingbirds, capable of mimicking songs but not speech. Since they were never intended to exist, they become a symbol of rebellion against Capitol rule.

Tracker-jackers: Genetically-engineered yellow jackets with deadly hallucinogenic venom.

Nightlock: Deadly poisonous berries, like nightshade but much more potent and fast-acting.

1 reply
  1. JB
    JB says:

    Great, the discourse of the fictional world. Could come into the lexicon as ‘big brother’ has from 1984.
    Which ones will survive beyond the book?

    Reply

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