Dystopian Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Have you ever heard of the word dystopian? 

This word gets thrown around a lot these days. With its recent spike in usage, it’s more important than ever that you understand the gravity of this word and what it means so you can avoid misusing it. 

So, what does the word dystopian mean? What is the history behind this important word? How can you make sure that this word doesn’t get misused? These are the questions this article seeks to answer.

Today’s word of the day is dystopian. By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the word dystopian, its definitions, its etymology, and how to use it. Let’s get started. 

What Is the Meaning of the Word Dystopian?

Dystopian is a bit of a scary word. It even sounds intimidating and ominous as it rolls off the tongue. So, what does this word actually mean? Here is the definition of dystopian:


  • Relating to a society that is full of suffering, inequality, and injustice, especially an imaginary or fictional society

To say that something is dystopian is to say that it is evil. When something is dystopian, that means that it is an element of a society that is evil and oppressive. It is the opposite of the ideal society or utopia. 

Dystopian societies are often characterized by oppressive government regimes, immense poverty, and evil individuals or small groups that hold massive amounts of power. A dystopian society doesn’t work for the people. Instead, it works against them. 

A dystopian society could have also been brought about by an environmental disaster or another cataclysmic event. Many examples of dystopias found in media are post-apocalyptic in nature and include depictions of life after a nuclear war, an ecological crisis, or the collapse of democracy.

Dystopian Authors, Literature, and Media

The rise in the usage of the word dystopian has been brought about by countless works of dystopian fiction. Dystopian authors like George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Lips Lowry, and Aldous Huxley are all famous for their dystopian literature. Books by these authors have acted as critiques of the direction they saw society moving in. 

Dystopia can sometimes be a literary device that creators can use to criticize and draw attention to problems they see in society. Dystopian novels often provide a “what if” vision of a hypothetical future. Oftentimes, this can be an imaginary place, but other times it can be much more familiar.

Some of the most famous dystopian novels of all time are Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell, The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Brave New World by Huxley, and The Giver by Lowry. Some are science-fiction, and others are more grounded, but all of them present an anti-utopia that has unsettling similarities to the world we live in today.  

Where Did the Word Dystopian Come From?

To help bring more clarity to the definition of dystopia, let’s look at the history of how it came to be — its etymology. The etymology of dystopian is incredibly fascinating. 

Many words in the English language come from Latin. These words were natural evolutions of Latin words that don’t have one particular creator. However, the word dystopian was actually created by one specific man in the late 18th century. 

Before we get there, though, let’s go back even further to a different word: utopia. This word was coined by the author Thomas More in the 1500s. Utopia literally means “no place.” In his book Utopia, More depicts a satirical version of England. In the years following, the word utopia was used to describe a perfect society. 

Fast forward to the 18th century, when another author by the name of John Stuart Mill coined a new term: dystopia. He simply added the prefix “dys,” which means “bad,” to the suffix “topia,” which means place,  to create a word that means “bad place.” He used this word to critique the English government’s Irish land policy.

Ever since then, authors have run with this idea, creating unforgettable works featuring dystopian futures and dystopic societies. These novels are incredibly valuable insights into our world and culture.   

What Are Some Examples of the Word Dystopian in a Sentence?

Seeing a word in context can help bring more clarity to its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the word dystopian.

  • If we don’t change the way the system is run, America is on a fast track to a dystopian, Orwellian society.

  • I love reading the dystopian novels of the 20th century and looking at their critiques of the systems of the day.

  • I hate New York; it’s a dystopian hellscape with grimy streets, oppressive elites, and poverty everywhere.

  • Although I like the ideas that these authors put forth, I don’t think the world will ever become a utopian OR dystopian society.

  • I think people overuse the dystopian analogy in political discourse. In reality, we are far from it.

  • If we don’t stop this abuse of power and corruption by government officials, we could be living in a dystopian future before you know it.

What Are the Synonyms of the Word Dystopian?

Here are some synonyms of the word dystopian that you might find in a thesaurus:

  • Antiutopian
  • Apocalypse
  • Hell
  • Fool’s Paradise

What Are Some Antonyms for Dystopian?

Here are some antonyms for the word dystopian.

  • Utopia
  • Eden
  • Elysium
  • Heaven
  • Nirvana
  • Paradise
  • Zion
  • Shangri-la

The Word Dystopian

Dystopian media is very popular these days, and it is a popular talking point to call an opponent’s ideas dystopian as an exaggeration and a buzzword. Be sure to be on the lookout for improper exaggerations using this word so you can be level-headed. 

Now you know everything you need to know about the word dystopian, its definition, its history, and how to use it. This word can come in handy when you are writing or discussing current events with the people in your life. If you need a refresher on the meaning of dystopian, just come back to this article for some info.


Classic Dystopian Fiction | Dystopian Novels | LibGuides at San Antonio Public Library 

DYSTOPIAN | Cambridge English Dictionary 

Dystopian Fiction | The International Anthony Burgess Foundation