The Word-Hoard: Tableau




1. A picture, as of a scene.

2. A picturesque grouping of persons or objects; a striking scene.

3. A representation of a picture, state, scene, etc., by one or more persons suitably costumed and posed.


Not an especially obscure or difficult word, but “tableau” can add a bit of welcome variety to the “scene” or “picture” you may be describing. The word comes from the old French for “picture,” mundanely enough. If you want to get a little fancier, however, you may refer to tableau vivant – a “living picture.” Those creepy living statues you might encounter at Times Square are an example of tableau vivant. A more pleasant application of the word can be found in certain (stationary) versions of the living nativity scenes that you may see around Christmas time.


Stephen Hampton was the closest to her; she shot him first, point-blank in the chest. The heavy bullet knocked him backward against a small table; he and it fell over together. While he was falling, the woman turned, dipped the muzzle of her pistol slightly and fired again; Doctor Vehrner’s leg gave way under him and he went down, the hypodermic flying from his hand and landing at Colonel Hampton’s feet. At the same time, the attendant, Albert, was almost upon her. Quickly, she reversed the heavy Colt, pressed the muzzle against her heart, and fired a third shot.

T. Barnwell Powell had let the briefcase slip to the floor; he was staring, slack-jawed, at the tableau of violence which had been enacted before him.

– H. Beam Piper, “Dearest” (1951)

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