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Glossary of Lit Terms

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abstract words
words used to discuss intangible qualities like good and evil
accent
the stressed portion of a word in poetry
ad hominem argument
  • argument that appeals to emotion rather than reason
  • may attack the messenger rather than the message
aesthetic
  • (adj) appealing to the senses
  • (n) a coherent sense of taste
  • (n) the study of beauty
aestheticism
devotion to the idea of beauty in art
aleatory
an illogical poem, seems composed by chance
allegory
a story in which each aspect has symbolic meaning outside the story
alliteration
repetition of initial consonant sounds
allusion
reference to a famous work or figure outside the poem
amplification
repeating a word, and adding more modifiers each time
anachronism
an object misplaced in time
anacoluthon
finishing a sentence with different grammatical structure from that with which it began
analogy
a comparison, involving two or more symbolic parts, employed to clarify an action or a relationship
anapestic

metrical measurement of two unstressed syllables and then one stressed one

ie: 'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house ...

anaphora
repetition of the same words at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses
anecdote
a short story
antagonist
one that contends with or opposes another
antecedent
a word, phrase, or clause that determines what a pronoun refers to
anthropomorphism
inanimate objects are given human characteristics, but no human shape
anticlimax
an action produces far smaller results than one had led to expect, comic
antihero
a protagonist who is markedly unheroic
antimetabole
reversing the order of repeated words/clauses to intensify the sentence, present alternatives, or show contrast
antiphrasis

one word irony

ie: calling a beautiful girl "ugly" 

antistrophe
repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive sentences
antithesis

juxtaposition of opposites

ie: heaven and hell 

aphorism
a short and witty saying
apocopated rhyme

a cut-off rhyme; last syllable of one of the rhymes is missing

ie: pain/gainless 

apologia
a defense of one's opinions, actions, or life
apologue
moral fable using animals to comment on human condition
aporia
expression of doubt about conclusions
aposiopesis
stopping abruptly and leaving statement unfinished
apostrophe
speech is directed to a nonhuman object or one that is not present
appositive
a noun or phrase placed next to another noun for the purpose of further explaining
archaism
use of deliberately old-fashioned diction
archetype
original pattern or model of which all things of a similar nature are copies
ars poetica
a poem written on the subject of poetic art, usually explaining poet's reasons for writing
aside
a speech made by an actor to the audience as though momentarily stepping outside the action on stage
assonance
the repeated use of internal vowel sounds
atmosphere
the emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene
aubade
a love song or poem greeting the dawn
ballad
a long narrative poem in regular meter and rhyme
bathos
writing that strains for grandeur it can't support
blank verse
unrhymed iambic pentameter
bombast
pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language
burlesque
broad parody that takes on a specific style and makes fun of it
cacophony
using deliberately harsh, awkward sounds
cadence
the beat or rhythm of poetry
caesura
a pause in a line of poetry (indicated or not)
camera eye narrator
  • third-person narrator who describes what would be visible to a camera
  • objective
canto
a section/division in a longer work of poetry
caricature
a portrait that exaggerates a facet of personality
carpe diem
the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future
carpe diem
the enjoymet of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future
cartharsis
  • cleansing of emotion an audience member experience
  • having lived through the experiences on stage
catalogue
a complete enumeration of items, arranged systematically, with descriptive detail
Chaucerian stanza

7-lines, rhyme ababbc 

chorus
the group of citizens who stand outside the main action on stage and comment on it
classicism
a tendency to reflect the principles manifested in the art of ancient Greece and Rome
climax
the point of highest tension, or a major turning point in a play
coinage
a new word, usually invented on the spot
colloquialism
a word or phrase used in everyday conversational English
conceit
an extended metaphor, developed and expanded upon over several lines
concrete poetry
a poem wherein shape of words and lines conveys the meaning
confessional poetry
makes frank, explicit use of incidents in the poet's life
connotation
the association with a word; the word suggest/implies meaning beyond the literal
consonance
repetition of consonant sounds in words
continuous form
a poem in which lines follow each other without stanza breaks
couplet
a pair of lines ending in rhyme
dactylic
a metrical measurement of one accented syllable and two unaccented
decorum
the attitude one should display according to his social/economic status
denotation
a word's literal meaning
denouement
conclusion; the outcome of a plot
determinism
  • belief that man is fated to defeat under indifferent natural forces
  • emphasizes vanity of free will 
deus ex machina
  • "god from the machine"
  • conflict quickly resolved at end, often by sudden introduction of a power who solves all
diacope

repetition of words before and after syntactical break

ie: We will do it, I tell you, we will do it.

dialect
the characteristic speech of a particular region or group
diction
the author's choice of words
didactic
primary purpose is to teach
dirge
a song for the dead
dissonance
the grating of incompatible sounds
doggerel
crude, simplistic verse, often in song-song rhyme
dramatic monologue
single speaker in literature talks to silent audience
dramatic poem
a poem that has conflict
dualistic

two-valued

ie: good / evil 

dystopia
  • opposite of utopia
  • society where social and technological advances have served to aid corruption
elegy
poem on death or mortality
encomium
a laudatory poem for a legendary or real person
enjambment
continuation of syntax over line break
enumeration
listing parts, causes, or effects for added emphasis
epic
  • long narrative poem on a serious theme in a dignified style
  • often describes glorious or profound subject 
epigram
a short poem intended to impart wisdom
epigraph
a quotation that is placed at the start of a work or section that expresses what will be said
epiphany
a sudden realization or comprehension of the meaning of something
epistle
a letter directed or sent to a group of people
epistrophe
repeat of the same word(s) at the end of sentences
epitaph
lines that commemorate the dead at the burial place
epithalamium
a poem that is written for the bride; celebration of a wedding
epithet

a word preceding or following a name which serves to describe

ie: fleet-footed Achilles

ie: wine-dark sea 

epizeuxis
repetition of the same word for emphasis
eponym

substituting the name of a famous person for a description

ie: He's a real Einstein

eulogy
formal expression of praise, usually given at a funeral
euphemism

a word that takes the place of a more harsh or inappropriate word

ie: physically challenged rather than crippled 

euphony
sounds blending harmoniously
euphuism

elegant Victorian prose style (filled with alliteration and similes)

exemplum
citing by example
expletive
word interrupting syntax to give emphasis to words around it
expressionism
emphasizes the life of the mind and feeling rather than realistic external details of everyday life
eye of the poem
the central focus of the poem
eye rhyme

words that look similar, but are pronounced differently

ie: wind/find 

falling/feminine rhyme
ending with unaccented last syllable
farce
a comedy of unlikely, but possible, situations
figurative image
representation of one thing by another
first person narrator
a character in the story who tells the tale from his/her POV
flashback
a scene that interrupts the action to show an event that happened earlier
foil
a secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of the main character
foot
basic rhythmic unit of a line of poetry, formed by two or three syllables, stressed or not
foreshadowing
an event or statement that, in miniature, suggests a larger event that comes later
free verse
poetry without regular rhyme or meter
genre
a sub-category of literature; categorizes literature by types
gothic

use of eerie themes or images

ie: ghosts 

haiku
Japanese poetry with three lines: 5, 7, 5 syllables
half/slant rhyme

words that almost rhyme

ie: dizzy, easy 

hamartia
tragic flaw or error which brings down the protagonist of a tragedy
Harlem Renaissance
  • flowering of Afr Am art and music in the 1920s
  • centered in Harlem, NY
heptameter
poem of seven metrical feet
heroic couplet
a rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter
hexameter
poetic form of six metrical feet
homonyms

words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings

ie: sale, sail 

hubris
excessive pride/ambition which leads to a character's downfall
hyperbaton
  • departure from normal word order
  •  a form of inversion

ie: a personality indescribable

hyperbole
exaggeration or deliberate overstatement
hypophora
raising a question, then proceeding to answer it
iambic
a metrical foot with an unstressed first syllable and a stressed second syllable
in media res
a piece of writing that begins in the middle of the action
incongruity
the joining of opposites to create an unexpected situation
interior monologue
recording of mental talk in character's head
invective
speech/writing that abuses, denounces, attacks
inversion
switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase
irony
  • events turn out exactly the opposite of how they might be expected
  • saying the opposite of what is meant
lament
a poem of sadness or grief over the death of a loved one or some intense loss
lampoon / satire
work in which human vice or folly is attacked with irony, derision, or wit
linked rhyme

first syllable of a line echoes the last syllable of the previous line

ie: On the rooftop / Stops the light of the cop 

literal image
concrete replication in words of an object or experience
litotes

type of understatement achieved by denying the opposite

ie: Heat waves are not rare in summer.

local color
use of specific details describing dialect, dress, customs, and scenery associated with a particular region
loose sentence

a sentence complete before its end

ie: Jack loved Barbara despite her irritating laugh. 

lyric
poetry that explores the poet's personal interpretation of and feelings about the world
madrigal
a short lyric on love or pastoral themes
masculine / rising rhyme
rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable
melodrama
  • cheesy theater
  • often emphasizes plot or actions over character development
metabasis
brief summary of what has been said and what will follow
metanoia

modifies a statement by recalling it and expressing it in a better way

ie: Max is the best of all bichons, nay of all dogs. 

metaphor
comparison or analogy that states that one thing is another
meter
rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up feet
metonymy

a single characteristic used to describe something outside itself

ie: "the bottle" for a "strong drink"

mixed metaphor
  • combination of incompatible comparisons
  • trying to compare objects too dissimilar to carry of a comparison
mood
prevailing atmosphere created by language, tone, setting
motif
a recurring feature such as a name, image, or phrase in a work of literature
narrative
a story poem
naturalism
  • emphasis on man as animal, behaving strictly according to dictates of nature
  • emphasizes lack of free will and the sordid
neo-classicism
  • sees man as flawed or with flawed institutions
  • nature is neither good nor evil
  • man needs to seek harmony with what is
neologism
coinage; forming a new word, usually spontaneously 
nonce
open form poem (shape is unique to the poem) written for a special occasion
novel of manners
novel describing social habits/customs of a social group
octave
eight line stanza
ode
long poem on a serious subject that develops its theme with dignified language, intended to be sung
omniscient narrator
a third-person narrator who sees into characters' heads
onomatopoeia
words that sound like what they mean
opposition
a pair of elements that contrast sharply
oxymoron

a phrase composed of opposites, a contridiction

ie: sweet vinegar 

palinode
a poem retracting a regretted derogatory statement
parable
a story told in prose or verse that illustrates a religious or ethical idea
paradigm
a formal plan or sequence of changes which acts as a model
paradox
a statement that seems contradictory, but is not
parallelism
repeated syntactical similarities used for effect
parenthetical
a phrase set off by commas that interrupts the flow of a sentence
parody
exaggerating a specific work so that it appears ridiculous
pastoral
a poem set in a tranquil nature (ideally around shepherds)
pathetic fallacy

a cliched personification of nature

ie: rain weeps 

pentameter
a line of verse containing five metrical feet
periodic sentence

a sentence that is grammatically incomplete until its final phrase

ie: Despite Barbara's irritation, she cut Jack's hair. 

persona
the character created by the author to narrate
personification
inanimate objects or animals that take on human shape
Petrarchan sonnet
14 lines: abba abba cde cde
picaresque novel
a novel about a picara, rogue, or vagabond
prelude
an introductory poem to a longer work of verse
private symbol
an author's personal symbol that the reader understands through the context
protagonist
the main character of a novel or play
public voice
a writer who is speaking for all people
pun
humorous use of a word in a way to suggest two or more meanings
pure rhyme

initial sounds differ, but the rest is identical

ie: sing, wing 

pyrrhic
a metrical foot with two unstressed syllables
quatrain
four-line stanza
quintet
five lines of poetry with no prescribed rhyme
realism
nature is benign and there is optimism that man can rise above his own animal nature if he desires
refrain
a line or a set of lines repeated several times in a poem
requiem
a song of prayer for the dead
rhapsody
passionate verse or section of verse, usually addressing love or praise
rhetorical question
a question that suggests an answer, and therefore doesn't need to be answered
rhetorical shift
a change in tone or attitude; key words include "but," "however," "even though," "although", and "yet"
rhyme royal
rhyming scheme first used by Chaucer: ababbc
ridicule
words intended to belittle and generate contempt/laughter
romanticism
  • man is good but institutions and their imposed orders are evil
  • nature is good
  • man can live in harmony with nature 
saga
generally long novels, often about several generations
sarcasm
ridicule expressed in ironic praise
scansion
analysis of a poem's rhythm and meter
second intensity
weak poems that could have been better
septet
7 lines of poetry
sestet
a stanza or poem of six lines
sestina
  • 6 six-line stanzas ending with tercet
  • last words of each line in first stanza are repeated as last words in next stanza
Shakespearean sonnet
14 lines in iambic pentameter: abab cdcd efef gg
simile
comparison using "as" or "like"
soliloquy
speech spoken by single character on stage
sonnet
14 rhymed lines of verse in iambic pentameter
Spenserian sonnet
14 lines: abab bcbc cdcd ee
spondee
a metrical foot with two stressed syllables
stanza
a unit within a longer poem
stock character
standard or cliched character types
stream of consciousness
reader sees inside main character's head and is privy to all character's conscious, random thoughts
subjunctive
setting up a hypothetical situation
surrealism
allowing the subconscious or dream-like imagery to guide the poem; leaps from image to image
suspension of belief
demand of the audience to accept stage limitations and believe
syllogism
deductive reasoning
synecdoche

a type of metaphor where a part stands for the whole

ie: He asked for her hand in marriage. 

synesthesia

a mixing of senses

ie: a blue smell 

tautology
a repetition so redundant as to be frozen with obvious foolishness
technique
styles, devices, and diction used by the author
tetrameter
a poetic line with four metrical feet
texture of poem
the sound of the poetic words in a piece
theme
general idea or insight about life that writer wishes to convey
tone
the attitude of the poet
transcendentalism
  • holds that basic truths can be reached through intuition
  • transcends reason
  • the divine is in nature and people
traversty
grotesque parody
trochaic
a metrical measurement of one stressed syllable and one unstressed
trope
any figurative language
truism
a way too obvious truth
understatement
ironic minimalizing of fact
unreliable narrator
first person narrator is crazy, very young, or not entirely credible
utopia
an ideal place
verisimilitude
how precisely the characters/events in fiction match reality
vernacular
everyday spoken language of people in a particular region
villanelle
19 lines: 5 tercets (aba) +a quatrain (abaa)
voice
  • associated with the basic vision of a writer
  • a writer's general attitude toward the world
weak specification
imprecise, abstract language
wit
words that are intellectually amusing; delight that surprises
zeugma

word modifies two or more words for different meanings

ie: The dance floor was square as was his personality. 

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