The device or technique I'm looking for is used to describe something mundane or ordinary in order to make it seem alien or special.

For example, the following quote from Slaughterhouse Five:

In a tiny cavity in her great body she was assembling the materials for a Green Beret

In that instance, a woman becoming pregnant is described, but it is written in such a way as to make it seem completely foreign. I think Hemingway was also known to use the technique, but no examples come to mind.

I've read briefly about the term before. I remember it being called something close to "dissociation." I'd like to read more writers that use the technique and practice it myself, so I'd like to know what the precise term is.


2 Answers 2


It is called defamiliarization, or making the ordinary feel less familiar. Whether through amplification, switching register, or choosing different words, the familiar becomes less familiar.

Related concepts include ostranenie (Viktor Shklovsky, a Russian formalist, used this term when he claimed that defamiliarization is a central function of art) and Verfremdungseffekt (playwright Bertolt Brecht used the term to define the distance he wanted to create between audience and characters).

Wikipedia provides a fair overview of these concepts. Also, Kip Wheeler's online dictionary of literary terms doesn't look great, but he's also an expert, and the definitions are well-sourced from credible guides.

  • 3
    +1, Very interesting! Looks like the Wiki also calls it a "Distancing Effect", and "recontextualization of the familiar".
    – Amadeus
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 21:23
  • YES! Thank you, this is exactly it. The word has been on the tip of my tongue for days. Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 13:42

I don't think it has a name. It's simply a minority or objective POV. It's a skill often used by comedians.

You get yourself into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to get a good college education so you can get a good job. In that job you work every hour God sends to buy a home make it beautiful. The moment you are given some respite from the grindstone to spend with your family, you abandon your million dollar home and everything you've sacrificed and slaved for to go live in the woods under a sheet.

Why do white people go camping?

  • When you give examples in your answers, you should really make it more obvious that they're examples, so I'm not reading your answer confused until I get to the punchline and realise "oh, that bit was an example".
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 12:28

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