Abstract terms- as opposed to concrete terms, abstract terms represent ideas or thoughts – generalities Adage

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Literary and Rhetorical Words and Phrases

Abstract - a very brief synopsis of longer work of scholarship or research. The abstract of an entire book may be reduced to a single page.
Abstract terms- as opposed to concrete terms, abstract terms represent ideas or thoughts – generalities
Adage- a saying or proverb embodying a piece of common wisdom based on experience and often couched in metaphorical language. Examples of adages: It is always darkest before dawn. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. A fool and his money are soon parted. See also aphorism and maxim.
Aesthetic distance- similar in meaning to Keats’ “Negative Capability”; refers to a total objectivity of a writer wherein his/her view and judgments are withheld in his/her account of human experience. Another conception of the term defines it as the distance between a work of art and its perceiver, the perceiver recognizing that the work of art is pretense and thereby on occasion larger and truer than life.
Allegory- a story with a double meaning: a primary or literal meaning; and a secondary or under-the-surface meaning (symbolic). The characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities which may be moral, religious, political, social, or satiric. The characters are often personifications of such qualities as greed, envy, hope, charity, and fortitude. While allegory makes use of symbols, it differs from other fiction that suggests several levels of meaning in that everything--plot, setting, characterization--is specifically structured to convey both a concrete surface story and abstract meanings that lie outside the narrative itself.
Alliteration- the intentional repetition of one or more initial sounds, usually consonants, in a group of words or a line from a poem
Allusion- a reference to a person, place, event, or other source meant to create an effect or enrich the meaning of an idea.

Ambiguity- multiple meaning; lack of clarity in a work consciously used as a phase of the author’s view of his/her world or characters and reflecting the vagueness of life.

Anachronism- the incorporation of an event, scene, or person who does not correspond with the time period portrayed in the work; as Shakespeare’s use of a cannon in King John or a hat in Julius Caesar
Analogy- a comparison that points out similarities between two dissimilar things.
Anaphora-the repetition of word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines
Annotation- notes added to a text that explain, name sources, summarize, or evaluate the text
Antagonist- the character or force in the story that works against the protagonist to produce tension or conflict.
Antihero- a protagonist who is notably lacking in heroic qualities (as courage)
Antithesis- the rhetorical opposition or contrast of words, clauses, or sentences, as in the following:

“as action, not words”

“They promised freedom but provided slavery”

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your



country.”

John F. Kennedy
Aphorism- a short, pithy statement of a generally accepted truth or sentiment, such as “The Road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.” See also adage and maxim
Apollonian- as distinguished from Dionysian; refers to the noble qualities of human beings and nature as opposed to the savage and destructive forces.
Apostrophe- a locution that addresses a person or personified thing not present. An example: “Oh, you cruel streets of Manhattan, how I detest you!”
Archetype- A pattern or model of an action, a character type, or an image that recurs consistently enough in life and literature to be considered universal. A plot, character type, image that repeats basic historical or primitive life patterns; from the psychology of Carl Jung

Assonance- the repetition of two or more vowel sounds in a group of words or a line of poetry

Ballad- a simple narrative verse that tells a story that is sung or recited
Bard- In modern usage, a poet. In the past, however, the term referred to poets who related stories of heroes to the accompaniment of a musical instrument such as the harp.
Baroque- in a strict sense, refers to an elaborate style of architecture that followed classicism; in general usage, however, refers to elaborate and unstructured style
Bathos- the use of ludicrous, commonplace language; the use of insincere or overdone sentimentality
Belles-lettres- a body of literature including drama, poetry, fiction, and criticism that is inherently artistic, as opposed to scientific discourse
Blank verse- unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter
Bombast- inflated language; the use of high-sounding language for a trivial subject
Burlesque- a literary composition that aims to provoke laughter by ridiculing serious works; a grotesque imitation of the dignified or pathetic
Cacophony- the use of inharmonious sounds in close conjunction to create an effect. Contrast with euphony.

Caesura- a pause or break in the metrical or rhythmical progress of a line in verse; usually placed near middle of a verse; first accented syllable after the pause had to alliterate with at least one accented syllable in the other half
Caricature- a grotesque likeness of striking characteristics in person or things
Carpe diem- “Seize the day”; a motif in poetry; refers to the view that one should enjoy life to the fullest while on is able
Catharsis- a cleansing of the spirit of the spectator at a tragedy through experiencing the emotions of pity and terror; as expressed in Aristotle’s Poetics

Chorus- the group of 12-15 men whodanced and sang during theatrical works perfomrned during religious festivals and dramatic performances in Ancient Greece. It acts as the voice of reason and of the town.

Classic- a highly regarded work of literature or other art form that has withstood the test of time. Many of Shakespeare’s plays and many of Dickens’ novels are usually considered classics. They will endure for a very long time.
Classical, classicism- deriving from the orderly qualities of ancient Greek and Roman culture; usually implies objectivity and simplicity, restraint and formality
Cliché- an overused or trite expression
Climax- the high point, or turning point, in a story or play
Conceit- a figure of speech in which a striking association is made between two seemingly dissimilar things; and extended metaphor, as in the poetry of John Donne
Concrete terms- as opposed to abstract terms, concrete terms refer to things that have actual existence; that can be seen or known
Connotation- the suggested or implied meaning of a word or phrase. Contrast with denotation
Consonance- the repetition of two or more consonant sounds in a group of words or a line of poetry
Denotation- the dictionary definition of a word or phrase. Contrast with connotation.
Denouement- the final resolution of the strands of plot complications or problems
Deus ex machina- as in Greek theater, the employment of any artificial device or gimmick that the author uses to solve a difficult situation
Diatribe- violent attack on a person or work, couched in vitriolic language.
Diction- the selection of words in oral or written discourse
Digression- a turning aside especially from the main plotline or them in writing or speaking. Not acceptable in formal outlines, but in literature it is used to present a parallel companion piece for emphasis, to moralize or philosophize, to list, etc.

Dionysian- as distinguished from apollonian; refers to the sensual, pleasure-seeking qualities of man and nature

Dramatic irony- an inconsistency, known by the audience or reader, between a character’s perception of a situation and the truth of the situation
Dramatic monologue- a type of poem or prose piece in which the speaker gives and account of a dramatic moment in his/her life and, in doing so, reveals his/her character
Elegy- a poem or piece of prose lamenting or meditating on the death of a person or pet
Ellipsis, elliptical- three periods (…) indication the omission of words. A sentence structure omits something in the second half, usually the verb in a subject-verb-object sentence, as in “May was hot and June the same.” The verb was is omitted from “June was the same.”
Empathy- a feeling of association or identification with an object; experiencing its sensations and responding with similar feelings
Epic poem- a narrative poem, often quite long, that tells of the adventures of a hero important to his nation or race
Epigram- the ingenious, witty, thoughtful, provocative, statement
Euphemism-a word used in a literary work that takes the place of another word because it is offensive, or would be used in bad taste
Euphony- the use of pleasant, harmonious words to create an effect. Contrast with cacophony.
Exegesis- a detailed analysis or interpretation of a poem, parable, other piece of discourse
Exemplum- a moralized tale included in a medieval sermon to illustrate the consequences of sin
Existentialism- as expressed in the works of such writers as Kafka, Camus, and Faulkner, a view of life that emphasizes existence as opposed to essence; human beings are presented as unable to solve the basic enigmas of life; no afterlife or divine power so all rules are pointless

Expose- a piece of writing, often journalistic, meant to reveal or expose weakness, faults, frailties, or other shortcomings

Exposition- the explanation or analysis of a subject; setting forth the meaning or purpose of an issue or set of facts
Explication- the interpretation or analysis of a text
Expressionism- a form of art in which the artist depicts the inner essence of man and projects his view of the world as colored by that essence
Fable- a short story designed to teach a useful lesson; its characters are usually animals or inanimate things
Fabliau- short comic tale in verse; humor is usually bawdy and positively obscene; short, pithy tale
Falling action- the action in a play or story that occurs after the climax. During this time, conflicts are usually resolved
Fantasy- the creation of unreal worlds and people, bearing a relation to the real
Figurative language- figures of speech, among them metaphor, simile, personification, synecdoche, metonymy, allusion, and symbol
Flashback- returning to an earlier time in a story of play for the purpose of clarifying present actions or circumstances
Foil- a character in a play or novel that offsets the main character or other characters by comparison
Foreshadowing- providing hints of things to come in a story or play
Frame Story- narrative structure that provides a setting and exposition for main narrative in a novel; helps control reader’s perception and increase credibility of main portion
Free verse- a kind of poetry without rhymed lines or regular rhythm
Genre- A category of literary work. In critical theory, genre may refer to both the content of a given work--tragedy, comedy, pastoral—and to its form, such as poetry, novel, or drama. This term also refers to types of popular literature, as in the genres of science fiction or the detective story.

Haiku- a verse form from Japan, in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, often depiction an image from nature

Hamartia- the “great error or frailty” through which the fortunes of the hero of a tragedy are reversed; may be caused by bad judgment, bad character, inherited weakness, or any of several other possible causes of error; it must however, express itself through a definite action, or failure to perform a definite action
Heroic Couplet- a rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter
Hubris, hybris- Aristotle’s term for the pride of the tragic hero that leads him to ignore or overlook warnings of impending disaster or to break moral laws
Humanism- in common usage, an attitude that emphasizes human interests; an optimistic view of human potential
Humor- the quality in action, speech, or writing that excites amusement; less intellectual than wit and having more a sympathetic tone
Hyberbole- overstatement; gross exaggeration for rhetorical effect
Idyll- a lyric poem describing a kind of ideal life or place
Imagery- the use of words to represent what can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or felt – in short, sensory language
Impressionism- in writing, the presentation of the salient features of a scene, event, or person as they appear to the author at the time; a highly personal approach
Invective- in satirical writing, the use of denunciatory, angry, and insulting language
Irony- a form of expression in which the meaning intended is the opposite from what is stated; also used to define the tragic contrast between the aspirations of human beings and the dark elements of life that frustrate them; in addition, used to describe the view of humanity in which human limitations and posturings are seen as debasing and ridiculous, there is in the ironic view an element of mockery

Kenning- stereotypical figurative phrase used in Old English and other Germanic tongues as a synonym for a simple noun; are often picturesque metaphorical compounds. Example: “the bent-necked wood” for the ship

Lampoon- a violent and scurrilous satirical attack against a person or institution
Light verse- a type of poetry meant to entertain or amuse. Some light verse has a serious intent to satirize or parody, for example.
Limerick- a form of light verse, often nonsensical, containing five lines and a prescribed rhythm and rhyme scheme. For example:

There was a young lady of Niger

Who smiled as she rode on a tiger:

They came back from the ride

With the lady inside

And a smile on the face of the tiger.


Litotes- a form of understatement in which the negative of the contrary is used to achieve emphasis and intensity. An example: He is not a bad dancer.
Local color- uses dialogue that is common to area (dialect), local customs, scenery details, appearance of people, the human relationships; unique details to a specific location
Loose sentence- a sentence that follows the customary word order of English sentences, i.e., subject verb object. The main idea of the sentence in presented first and is then followed by one or more subordinate clauses. See also periodic sentence.
Lyric- subjective, reflective poetry with regular rhymes scheme and meter that reveals the poet’s thoughts and feelings to create a single, unique impression. Some examples of lyric poems are: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson, and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” by Walt Whitman.
Maxim- a saying or proverb expressing common wisdom or truth. See also adage and aphorism.
Melodrama- a literary account in which the incidents are sensational, the characters exceptionally noble or evil, the appeal to the emotions extreme; in a melodrama usually all ends well
Metaphor- a figure of speech that compares unlike objects

Metaphysical poetry- the work of poets, particularly those of the seventeenth century, that implies elaborate conceits; such poetry is highly intellectual and expresses life’s complexities

Meter- poetry’s rhythm, or its pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Metonymy- a figure of speech that uses the name of one thing to represent something else with which it is associated. Example: “The White House says…”
Middle English- the language spoken in England roughly between 1150 and 1500 A.D.
Mode- an attribute or quality of a thing; a work of literature may be written in a particular mode
Montage- a quick succession of images or pictures to express an idea; used primarily in films
Mood- the emotional response that a piece of literature stimulates in the reader
Moral- the lesson a reader infers from a story, poem, or other piece of literature. Because unsophisticated readers often assume that literature is “supposed to” contain a moral truth, they equate literary analysis with finding a simplistic lesson hidden in the story as though authors intend to teach their readers the proper way to thing and act. Thus, the moral of Macbeth might be: Don’t be inordinately ambitious. And the moral of Crime and Punishment: Crime does not pay.
Motif- a device that serves as a unifying agent in conveying a theme
Muses-the goddesses presiding over the arts; the daughters of Zeus: Calliope
(epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyrics and love poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpischore (choral dance and song), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy)
Myth- a solidly conceived, but entirely imaginative world, with beliefs and values, created by an author; a story that forms part of the beliefs of a faith in which people no longer believe
Narrative- a form of verse or prose that tells a narrative

Nihilism- a belief in absolutely nothing – not family and family rules, state and state rules, or church and church rules; society based on rationalism and materialism; total individual freedom

Nonsequitur- a statement or idea that fails to follow logically from the one before
Ode- a lyric verse usually marked by serious, respectful, and exalted feelings toward the subject
Old English- the Anglo-Saxon language spoken in what is now England during the years, roughly speaking, 450 to 1150 A.D.
Omniscient narrator- a narrator with unlimited awareness, understanding and insight of character, setting, background, and all other elements of the story
Onomatopoeia- the use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning; example, bubbling, murmuring brooks
Ontological criticism- a concern by a critic with analysis of a work itself without seeking answers to problems in the biography or milieu of the author or in influences upon him/her; the method of the New Critics
Oxymoron- a term made up of contradictory elements brought into juxtaposition to create a paradoxical effect; examples, loud silence, jumbo shrimp
Parable- similar to allegory, but shorter; a story in which the author intends that the reader will relate the events of the story to some moral or spiritual truth. Unlike a fable, the parable deals with events that can occur in the real world.
Paradox- a statement that seems self-contradictory, but is nevertheless true
Parallelism- a technique of showing that words, phrases, clauses, or larger structures are comparable in content and importance by placing them side by side and making them similar in form
Parody- a satirical imitation of a work for the purpose of ridiculing its style and subject using exaggeration and irony
Pastoral- a work of literature dealing with rural life
Pathos- that element of literature that stimulates pity or sorrow

Periodic sentence- a sentence that departs from the usual word order or English sentences by expressing the main thought only at the end. In other words, the particulars in the sentence are presented ahead of the idea they support. See also loose sentence.

Persona- the role or façade that a character assumes or depicts to a reader, a viewer, or the world at large
Personification- a figure of speech in which objects and animals are given human qualities
Picaresque- episodic, often biographic novel about a rogue of low social degree and dubious values; provides author to connect widely different plot pieces in order to satirize social conditions and classes; graphically realistic in style
Plot line- a graphic display of the events in a story, including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution
Point of view- the view whether limited or omniscient, the reader gets of the action and characters in a story
Protagonist- the chief character in a work of literature
Pun- a humorous play on words, using-similar sounding or identical words to suggest different meanings. Example:

“I’m glad we are out of Vietnam,” she said.



“So am I,” he replied. “It was time to let Saigons be Saigons.”
Realism- In literature and art the depiction of people, things, and experiences as it is believed they really are without idealization or exaggeration; in recent use, it has often been used synonymously with naturalism as depicting events that are unpleasant or sordid
Rhetoric- the language of a work and its style; similar to diction
Rhyme- the repetition of similar sounds at regular intervals, often used in the writing of verse

Romanticism- in literature and in art, the depiction of idealized, fabulous, or fantastic characters and events; the stories abound in dashing, extravagant adventures, characters of extreme virtues or faults, exotic worlds, strong and inflexible loyalties, and idealized love-making

Sarcasm- a sharp, caustic expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt; different from irony, which is more subtle

Satire- a literary style used to make fun of or ridicule an idea or human vice or foible, through derision, irony, or wit, frequently with the intent of changing or altering the subject being attacked. Jonathan Swift’s famous essay, “A Modest Proposal,” is a classic example of satirical writing
Sentence structure- the manner in which grammatical elements are arranged in a sentence. Although there are endless varieties of sentences, each is a variation on one of the three basic structures: simple, compound, and complex. (1) A simple sentence contains a subject and a verb along with modifiers and perhaps an object. (2) A compound sentence consists of two or more simple sentences linked by a conjunction such as and or but. (3) A complex sentence is made up of an independent, or main, clause and any number of dependent or subordinate clauses.
Sentiment- refined and tender emotion in literature; sometimes used derisively to represent insincerity or mawkishness
Sentimental- used to describe characters’ excessive emotional response to experience; also describes insincere and exaggerated emotional displays
Simile- a figurative comparison using the words like or as
Skene- Greek word for hut or tent; place where actors changed their costumes
Sonnet- a fourteen-line verse from, usually consisting of three four-line unites called quatrains and a concluding rhymed couplet. Although Shakespeare and Petrarch are the world’s master-sonneteers, many other poets have used the form
Stream of consciousness- refers to an attempt on the part of an author to reproduce the unembellished flow of thoughts in the human minds with its feeling, judgments, associations, and memories

Style- the manner in which an author used words, shapes ideas, forms sentences, and creates a structure to convey ideas

Syntax- the arrangement of words, and the order of grammatical elements in a sentence.
Surrealism- in literature and art, an attempt to reproduce and interpret the visions and images of the unconscious mind as manifested in dreams; characterized by an irrational arrangement of bizarre experiences
Symbolism- the use of one object to suggest another, hidden, object or idea
Synecdoche- a figure of speech in which a part signifies the whole (fifty masts for fifty ships) or the whole signifies the part (days for life, as in “He lived his days under African skies.”) When the name of a material stands for the things itself as in pigskin for football that, too, is a synecdoche
Syntax- the way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses, or sentences
Tension- inclusion in poetry of abstract and concrete meaning; related to metonymy in that expression of the particular suggests the universal; presenting the image suggest the idea; term first introduced by critic Allen Tate
Theme- the main idea or meaning, often an abstract idea upon which a work of literature is built
Tone- the author’s attitude toward the subject being written about. The tone is the characteristic emotion that pervades a work or part of a work- the spirit or character that is a work’s emotional essence
Tragedy- a form of literature in which the hero is destroyed by some character flaw and set of forces that cause the hero considerable anguish.
Tragic hero- protagonist who causes his own downfall through a major flaw of his and gains some wisdom from the experience
Transcendentalism- a form of romanticism, largely of a philosophical nature; sponsored by Americans such as Emerson and Thoreau

Trope- words used with a decided change or extension in their literal meaning; the use of a word in a figurative sense

Verbal irony- a discrepancy between the true meaning of a situation and literal meaning of the written or spoken words
Verisimilitude- similar to truth; the quality of realism in a work that persuades the reader that he/she is getting a vision of life as it is
Villanelle- a French verse from, strictly calculated to appear simple and spontaneous, but consisting of 19 lines and a prescribed rhyme scheme
Voice- the real or assumed personality used by a writer or speaker. In grammar, active voice and passive voice refer to verbs. A verb is in the active voice when it expresses an action performed by its subject. A verb is in the passive voice when It expresses an action performed upon its subject or when the subject is the result of the action.

ACTIVE: The crew raked the leaves.

PASSIVE: The leaves were raked by the crew.

Stylistically, the active voice makes for more economical and vigorous writing.


Wit- the quickness of intellect and the power and talent for saying brilliant things that surprise and delight by their unexpectedness; the power to comment subtly and pointedly on the foibles of the passing scene





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