D is for diorama

The Simpsons is a great programme (program/show) in order to learn about life in the US. I can’t imagine how we would have survived here without it. Ok, I’m not being totally serious, but it is only down to The Simpsons that I knew what was expected when Child 3 came home announcing she needed to make a diorama. I first heard the word in this context in the episode Lisa’s Rival (1994), where Lisa fears another girl’s diorama will be better than hers and plans to sabotage it. Here’s the diorama in question.


Before this I’m not sure what I would have said what a diorama was. And even though it’s a greek word by origin and not an Americanism, I’m confident that it’s not commonly used in the UK, or if it is used, then it’s with a different definition. That makes it fit for translation. Here’s what I think.

I think that if I unscientifically asked 10 Brits what a diorama was and then equally unscientifically asked 10 Americans what a diorama was, then I might get the same answer, but the Americans would answer faster.

To support my totally untested theory, I’ve turned to the dictionary. In my old Chambers dictionary (1992 edition) the first definition of a diorama reads, “an exhibition of translucent pictures seen through an opening with lighting effects.” Imagine the horror in the heart of hundreds of parents (when all of Child 3’s grade came home the other week tasked with making a diorama of the habitat of an endangered animal) if that had been the first and most common definition for a diorama.

Translucent?? Lighting effects? Can we make that with prit stick (glue stick)? No chance. Help!!

So it is with relief that I turn to my Webster’s New Dictionary (2003 edition) and find that there is only one definition for a diorama and it’s: “a scenic display, as of three dimensional figures against a painted background.” Oh, says the Brit – “you mean a model. Like that funny episode of The Simpsons I watched once. Ahh. I get it now.”

Thus a model is my translation for a diorama over here and (as demonstrated by The Simpsons) it is a standard thing for an elementary (primary) kid to have to make. Child 3 was tasked with making the habitat for a snow leopard. I shall gloss over the part where she held up a piece of egg carton and sneered “And you think this is going to look like a mountain??” at me and cut to the photographs. Here is Child 3’s diorama in the making, and finished:

photo 1-2 photo 2-2

I love the word diorama. So much more satisfying on the tongue than 3D model don’t you think? Some needs to tell Michael Gove to put dioramas on the National Curriculum. Maybe a diorama of To Kill a Mockingbird??




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