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Literary Terms and Definitions: D

This page is under perpetual construction! It was last updated April 24, 2018.

This list is meant to assist, not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary terms are listed alphabetically.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

DACTYL: A three-syllable foot consisting of a heavy stress and two light stresses. Examples of words in English that naturally constitute dactyls include strawberry, carefully, changeable, merrily, mannequin, tenderly, prominent, buffalo, glycerin, notable, scorpion, tedious, horrible, and parable. Verses written in feet that follow this pattern are said to be in dactylic meter. For further discussion, see meter, or click here for a PDF handout contrasting dactyls and other types of feet.

DAGGER: Another term for the symbol obelisk. See obelisk.

DANEGELD: The practice of paying extortion money to Vikings to make them go away, often associated in particular with the Anglo-Saxon king "Aethelred Unraed." His nickname means "Aethelred the Unready," or more accurately translated, "Aethelred the Uncounciled." At various points in history, British kings paid as much as 20,000 pounds in silver to appease the Vikings and prevent invasion--a disastrous policy that bankrupted the island and encouraged the return of extortionate Vikings every few years. This failed policy of Danegeld ultimately led to large portions of northern England being settled by the Vikings in the area known as the Danelaw, which in turn played a key part in the evolution of the English language through the incorporation of Scandinavian loan-words. Words like skiff, ship, and shirt, for instance, are all loan-words borrowed from the Vikings. NB: Danegeld should not be confused with wergild.

DANELAW (Anglo-Saxon, Dena lagu): The region of northeast England up to the southern part of Scotland that was conquered and inhabited by Viking invaders. In 871 CE, a Wessex army under King Aethelred (the West Saxon king) and his brother Alfred confronted the Danish Vikings at the Battle of Ashdown (in modern Berkshire). Unfortunately, after a series of losses, Wessex began paying annual Danegeld (tribute) to the Vikings. Aethelred died soon after, and Viking settlers swarmed into the northern parts of England while their raiders occupied London.

The Vikings continued their expansion until 878 CE. That year, King Alfred the Great rallied men from Somerset and Wiltshire and decisively defeated the Danish Vikings. The Danes were too numerous to dislodge from their holdings, but it was clear that they would not be able to expand their territory while Alfred lived. King Alfred freed London from Danish occupation in 886. At this point, Alfred made a treaty with the Danes so that England was divided. The northeastern section between the Rivers Thames and Tees was officially declared to be Danish territory and later become known as the Danelaw (where the inhabitants followed Danish law from 890 onward). The influence of this period of Viking settlement is still visible in the North of England and the East Midlands, especially in toponyms or place-names. Towns with name-endings such as -by or -thorp are all places named by the Viking settlers.

DANS MACABRE (French, "morbid dance"): A gruesome motif or trend that spread through late medieval Europe's visual art, architecture, sculpture, and poetry in the wake of the Black Plague (1347-1349 CE) and which remained common in woodcuts, gravemarkers, and cenotaphs through the Renaissance two hundred years later. Visually, it took the form of imagery involving bones, skeletons, graves, and similar death-imagery, most famously in images of living revelers intermixed with animated skeletons carousing, eating, drinking, and dancing. Functionally, the art was a memento mori, a reminder of death's inevitability in the face of each individual's mortality. In terms of literature, we find traces of the dans macabre motif appearing in tombstone epitaphs such as "Such as I am, So Shalt Thou Be," or poetic verse such as "Golden lads and girls all must, / As chimney-sweeps, come to dust."

DARK LADY SONNETS: Sonnets 127-147 of the Shakespearean collection published in 1609 are known loosely as the "Dark Lady" sonnets because most of them have an implied audience or implied subject-matter of a mysterious, sexually promiscuous woman with dark features. This contrasts with the traditional Petrarchan conceits of a fair-haired and fair-skinned lover who is coldly aloof to the male speaker's wooing. Contrast with the "young man" sonnets earlier in the collection.

DARRAARLO (ON, "Song of Dorrud"): In the last chapters of Njal's Saga, a minor character named Dorrud sees a group of twelve mysterious women (probably intended to be the Valkyries). The women enter into a room and sing as they weave a loom composed of human heads, intestines, swords, and arrows--an idea often associated with the Norns (the Old Norse equivalent of the Greek Fates or Roman Parcae). Scholars traditionally refer to this section of Njal's Saga and the women's song as the darraarlo.

DATIVE: See discussion here.

DAWN SONG (also called an aubade): A genre of poetry common to Europe in which the poem is about the dawn or coming of dawn, or it is a piece of music meant to be sung or played outdoors at dawn. Examples include Browning's "The year's at the spring / And day's at the morn" from Pippa Passes or Shakespeare's "Hark! hark! the lark." Some poems, such as John Donne's "Busy old sun" share traits with the dawn song, and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde also contains an example inside its larger narrative.

DEAD LANGUAGE: In linguistics, a dead language is one that does not change any more over time--it is "frozen" historically because it is no longer used in everyday discourse, but is instead learned only for ritual use, scholarly study, or the preservation of an ancient literature. Classical Latin and Sanskrit are two examples of dead languages. This situation contrasts with a living language, in which old words die out, new ones are added, and existing words change their meaning continually over time from one generation to the next, as A. C. Baugh puts it (2).

DECADENCE, THE: A literary movement in late Nineteenth-Century England, France, Germany, and Spain associated with dark or "amoral" symbolism, focusing on the theme of artifice as opposed to naturalism. In particular, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, and Audrey Beardsley are representative writers and poets in this movement.

DECLENSION: See discussion under declined language or click here for example cases.

DECLINED LANGUAGE: Also called a synthetic language, or an inflected language, a declined language is one in which word order is not as important in making meaning as the use of inflections or declensions--special endings stuck on the end of words--to indicate the case, or how each word functions. These endings are called declensions, a term that comes from the handwritten grammar charts used by medieval monks who create a series of angled or declined lines in specified patterns, and on these lines the students would write the correct word-ending as part of grammar exercises. Click here for further information.

DECONSTRUCTED: See discussion under deconstruction.

DECONSTRUCTION: An interpretive movement in literary theory that reached its apex in the 1970s. Deconstruction rejects absolute interpretations, stressing ambiguities and contradictions in literature. Deconstruction grew out of the linguistic principles of De Saussure who noted that many Indo-European languages create meaning by binary opposites. Verbal oppositions such as good/evil, light/dark, male/female, rise/fall, up/down, and high/low show a human tendency common transculturally to create vocabulary as pairs of opposites, with one of the two words arbitrarily given positive connotations and the other word arbitrarily given negative connotations. Deconstructionists carry this principle one step further by asserting that this tendency is endemic to all words, and hence all literature. For instance, they might try to complicate literary interpretations by revealing that "heroes" and "villains" often have overlapping traits, or else they have traits that only exist because of the presence of the other. Hence these concepts are unreliable in themselves as a basis for talking about literature in any meaningful way. Oftentimes, detractors of deconstruction argue that deconstructionists deny the value of literature, or assert that all literature is ultimately meaningless. It would be more accurate to assert that deconstructionists deny the absolute value of literature, and assert that all literature is ultimately incapable of offering a constructed meaning external to the "prison-house of language," which always embodies oppositional ideas within itself. Deconstruction is symptomatic in many ways of postmodernism. In the more radical fringes of postmodernism, postmodern artists, dramatists, poets, and writers seek to emphasize the conventions of story-telling (rather than hide these conventions behind verisimilitude) and break away from conventions like realism, cause-and-effect, and traditional plot in narratives. Such a text might be called "deconstructed" in a loose sense. See also différance.

DECORATED INITIAL: In medieval manuscripts, this term refers to an introductory letter of a text division, embellished with some type of abstract design, i.e., a design not necessarily containing a picture (which would make it an inhabited initial) and not necessarily containing a scene from the story (which would make it an historiated initial). Unlike the latter two types, the adornment in a decorated initial has no overt connection to the material discussed or narrated in the book's contents. Click here for an example from Dagulf's Psalter in order to view one. Cf. inhabited initial and historiated initial.

DECORUM: The requirement that individual characters, the characters' actions, and the style of speech should be matched to each other and to the genre in which they appear. This idea was of central importance to writers and literary critics from the time of the Renaissance up through the eighteenth century. Lowly characters, low actions, and low style, for instance, were thought necessary for satire. Epic literature, on the other hand, called for characters of high estate, engaging in great actions, and speaking using elevated, poetic diction.

DEDICATION: A short bit of text conventionally appearing before the start of a novel or poem in which the author or poet addresses some individual, invoking his or her gratitude or thanks to that individual. Frequently, the dedication is to a spouse, friend, loved one, child, mentor, or individual who inspired the work. Several of the Inklings dedicated specific fictional works to each other (or in the case of C.S. Lewis, to children of fellow Inklings).

Among scholars, one of the most significant types of dedications is a festschrift. A festschrift is a collection of essays or studies in book form, dedicated to a former teacher or professor in his or her advanced age. The individual scholarly writings come from his or her students, who typically collaborate to organize the work and contact the publisher, and they present the collection to the teacher upon its publication.

DEDUCTION: The process of logic in which a thinker takes a rule for a large, general category and assumes that specific individual examples fitting within that general category obey the same rule. For instance, a general rule might be that "Objects made of iron rust." When the logician then encounters a shovel made of iron, he can assume deductively that the shovel made of iron will also rust just as other iron objects do. This process is the opposite of induction. Induction fashions a large, general rule from a specific example. Deduction determines the truth about specific examples using a large general rule. Deductive thinking is also called syllogistic thinking. See induction, logic, and logical fallacies, and the class's syllogism handouts.

DEDUCTUM CARMEN (Latin, "drawn-out song"): Ovid's term in Eclogue 6.3-5 for the type of poem he will create in his own poetry, in contrast with the older epic. He claims that a "modern" (i.e., imperial) poet of his day should not be writing epics, but instead should follow the example of Callimachus, in which the poem's narrative structure is drawn out in a manner akin to the way a thread is drawn out in spinning, so the story become a fine, tight thread pulled out of the original chaotic tangle of unprocessed wool (Feeney xxiii). This method contrasts with the epic, in which a single narrative focusing on kings and conquerors broadly dominates the entire poem.

DEEP STRUCTURE: In Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar, the biological "hardwiring" in the brain that gives children the capacity to use language, as opposed to the surface structure, i.e., the incidentals of the language children actually learn.

DEFAMILIARIZATION: The literary theoretical term "defamiliarization" is an English translation for Viktor Shklovsky's Russian term ostranenie. Shklovsky coined the phrase in 1917 in his essay "Art as Technique." In this artistic technique, a writer, poet, or painter takes common, everyday, or familiar objects and forces the audience to see them in an unfamiliar way or from a strange or unusual perspective. It is especially common in satire, Dadaism, postmodernism, and science fiction. Although Shklovsky coined this term to mark a distinction between poetic language and practical, communicative language, he and later critics argued it applied to all effective art, which ideally would force the viewer/reader to perceive the subject in a new way.

DEISM (From Latin Deus, "God"): An intellectual religious movement en vogue through the late seventeenth century up to the late eighteenth century concerned with rational rather than faith-based approaches to religion and understanding God. The movement is often associated with the Enlightenment movement, Neoclassicism, and Free Masonry. In general, Deists prided themselves on free-thinking and logic and tended to reject any specific dogma, so it is difficult to define the beliefs of an individual Deist without referring to generalities. John Locke's mechanistic philosophy and Newtonian physics heavily influenced many Deists, so they saw the universe as a place ruled rationally by cause and effect. They tended to see God as an impersonal but intelligent force, a first cause that created the universe and set it in motion, who then allowed life and matter to proceed on its own without further need for divine intervention. The logic is that, if God is infallible, omniscient and omnipotent, logically he would pre-establish his design in the world in such a way that he would not need to tinker constantly with it or adjust it through supernatural intervention. (Such activity indicates an error, a change of mind, indecision, or some other sign of imperfection on God's part.)

Deists thought this divine being to be completely transcendent--separate from the creation rather than contained within it. Deistic writings often refer to the Deity using metaphors of the architect, the watchmaker, the mason, or some other skilled worker who measures out the universe with geometric and mechanical precision. Thus, a common Deist metaphor compares the universe to a perfectly designed watch or clock--a construct created with complex gears and moving parts, then wound up, and finally released since it can operate on its own without any more effort on the creator's part. Deists rejected the belief that an infallible creator would need to intervene via miracles and individual revelation. Generally, Deism rejected trinitarian doctrine in favor of seeing God as a unified, singular entity. They usually viewed Christ as a holy and wise man, but discounted the idea of him performing miracles or being a literal son of God. To distinguish between the Deistic idea of monotheism and that espoused by traditional, dogmatic religions, they usually referred to the Godhead as "the Deity" or "the Creator" (as opposed to conventional labels "God," or "Jehovah" or "Christ"). They tended to see the divine as impersonal, as removed from humanity and unmoved by prayers, sacrifices, or other acts of spiritual bribery. They thought the rational and structured nature of the divine was better seen in the perfect orbits of planets and the precision of geometry and the predictable harmonies of mathematics, rather than in prayer, sermons, speaking in tongues, or other irrational displays of extra-normal reality. They thought that God was best worshipped by good works, effective charity, and harmonious interaction with one's fellow humans rather than by empty religious ritual, church attendance, or financial support of some "priestly caste," as one Deist wrote.

Examples of Enlightenment figures with Deistic tendencies include Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Voltaire, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, John Toland, Antony Cooper, Thomas Wooston, Matthew Tindal, Peter Annet, and others. The case of Thomas Jefferson is particularly of interest, given his editing of the "Jefferson Bible"--a harmonized edition of the four gospels blended into one text, but one in which Jefferson systematically deletes all references to Christ's miracles and the supernatural, focusing only on moral precepts and eradicating what Jefferson calls "enthusiasms" and "superstitions." Copies can be purchased from online bookstores under the title The Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, for students interested in tracing Deist thought.

DEMAND D'AMOUR (French, "demand of love"): A medieval motif common in French and continental courtly literature in which a hypothetical situation would appear as a "love-problem," and the listeners would attempt to resolve the issue through debate. Such debates may have been common in real-life medieval party-games or flirtations among the nobility before they became literary motifs. By the late medieval period, many collections of such hypothetical situations and accompanying questions had appeared, such as the Middle English Demaundes of Love. Chaucer's narrators in the Knight's Tale, the Franklin's Tale, and The Parliament of Fowels explicitly ask their audiences to make judgments of this sort at various points in the tale, and the marriage group as a whole in The Canterbury Tales implicitly asks the readers to explore what makes a happy marriage.

DEMESURE (French, "lack of measure"): In French chivalric literature, the equivalent of Latin immoderatio--excessive actions and uncontrolled passions such as those of Roland in the Chanson de Roland. This trait contrasts with the mesure (the ability to follow a golden mean and not go to unreasonable extremes). In the literature of courtly love, a frequent debate is whether the ideal courtly lover should have mesure or demesure--and which emotion is more worthy of his beloved.

DENOTATION: The minimal, strict definition of a word as found in a dictionary, disregarding any historical or emotional connotation. Contrast with connotation.

DENOUEMENT: A French word meaning "unknotting" or "unwinding," denouement refers to the outcome or result of a complex situation or sequence of events, an aftermath or resolution that usually occurs near the final stages of the plot. It is the unraveling of the main dramatic complications in a play, novel or other work of literature. In drama, the term is usually applied to tragedies or to comedies with catastrophes in their plot. This resolution usually takes place in the final chapter or scene, after the climax is over. Usually the denouement ends as quickly as the writer can arrange it--for it occurs only after all the conflicts have been resolved.

DENTAL SUFFIX: A -d or -t ending typically added to English weak verbs (i.e, "regular verbs") in the past tense and the past participle form. For instance, "I walk, I walked, I have walked." Here, the -d ending is a dental suffix. This contrasts with the English strong verbs (i.e., so-called "irregular verbs") which indicate the past tense and the participle form by a change in the stem's vowel. For instance, "I break, I broke, I have broken."

DESCARTEAN REASONING: Logic of the sort championed by French philosopher René Descarte (1596-1650). This logic involves (1) a dualistic split between the mind and physical matter, and (2) radical doubt concerning the evidence of the senses. Descarte attempted to prove the existence of himself, the physical world, and God without appealing to any sensory evidence at all. His initial step is the logical statement, cogito, ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"). By this statement, Descarte indicates that the act of thinking by itself shows the thinker cannot be illusory; i.e., one cannot trick a non-existent being into thinking it exists when it doesn't. The mere fact an "I" exists to ask the question of its existence conclusively proves the "I" must really be present behind the thought.

DESCENT INTO THE UNDERWORLD: An archetype or motif in folklore, religion, mythology, or literature in which the protagonist must descend into the realm of the dead (usually located beneath the earth in hell, Elysium, or Tartarus) and then return to the realm of the living at the earth's surface, often after rescuing a trapped soul or seeking the advice of the dead. Sometimes, a psychopompos will serve as a guide on this journey. This descent is often called katabasis in Greek mystery religions.

This idea appears in many different cultures. In Mesopotamian legend, the goddess Inanna must enter Queen Erishikegal's realm of the dead unclothed, and she can only return if another soul is chosen to take her place. In Egyptian mythology, the souls descending into the next life must appear before a judge who takes his scales and weighs their hearts against a single feather. Greek examples include Orpheus's expedition to rescue Eurydice from Hades, or Hades' abduction of Persephone to make her the queen of his realm, or Odysseus's necromantic conversation with the shades of his old comrades who regain their power of speech after drinking sacrificial blood from a lamb. In Roman literature such as the Aeneid, Virgil describes how the Sibyl instructs Aeneas to use a golden bough as a bribe so Charon will ferry Aeneas across the river Styx.

In one of the most spectacular medieval treatments of the motif, Dante has a persona of himself undertake such a trip through a multi-layered hell in The Inferno. Other medieval examples include Saint Patrick's Purgatory and Sir Orfeo. Medieval writers such as the "Vatican mythographers" often treat all sorts of mythological narratives as symbolic of the descent into the underworld. One example is Theseus's battle with the minotaur, in which medieval readers equated Theseus with Christ, the bull with Satan, and the labyrinth with the underworld. In the early apocryphal books of the Bible, such as the Gospel of Nicodimas, Christ descends into hell during the three days after his crucifixion and frees the souls there in the harrowing of hell, an apocryphal belief that still appears in the Apostle's Creed today even though most Protestant groups reject apocryphal texts in favor of those books of the bible considered canonical today.

Other writers adapt the motif for purely symbolic effects. The cyberpunk novel Snow Crash includes Juanita Marquez as a typological figure of the goddess Inanna; Juanita descends into a figurative land-of-the-dead by infecting herself with a language-virus on a raft of refugees, and her rescuer ("Hiro Protagonist") must guide her back to the land-of-the living.

Freudian and Jungian critics might read these descent motifs psychologically as a symbol of entering the dark realms of the subconscious mind, and point out the images of rebirth that usually accompany the hero's return. See also the Other World.

DESCRIPTIVIST: A grammatical treatise or dictionary is said to be descriptivist if it has the goal of describing nonjudgmentally how a group of people tends to use language, rather than the goal of fashioning guidelines or "rules" for grammar, spelling, and word use. Contrast with the opposite term, prescriptivist.

DETECTIVE NOVEL: A mystery novel focusing on a brilliant investigator--often a detective--solving a crime. See mystery novel.

DEUS EX MACHINA (from Greek theos apo mechanes): An unrealistic or unexpected intervention to rescue the protagonists or resolve the story's conflict. The term means "The god out of the machine," and it refers to stage machinery. A classical Greek actor, portraying one of the Greek gods in a play, might be lowered out of the sky onto the stage and then use his divine powers to solve all the mortals' problems. The term is a negative one, and it often implies a lack of skill on the part of the writer. In a modern example of deus ex machina, a writer might reach a climactic moment in which a band of pioneers were attacked by bandits. A cavalry brigade's unexpected arrival to drive away the marauding bandits at the conclusion, with no previous hint of the cavalry's existence, would be a deus ex machina conclusion. Such endings mean that heroes are unable to solve their own problems in a pleasing manner, and they must be "rescued" by the writer himself through improbable means. A frequent criticism of J.R.R. Tolkien is that he uses the eagles as a deus ex machina in key parts of The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings along with the discovery magic items or sudden dreams sent from the Valar or other spirits. For example, on page 246, Boromir recounts how he hears a dream that sends him to seek out Elrond. Since The Silmarillion reveals that dreams are interventions of Valar like Irmo Lórien, Tolkien here echoes the ancient use of the deus ex machina motif from Greek literature, as Lara Sookoo suggests (see Drout 21). On the other hand, in some genres, the deus ex machina ending is actually a positive and expected trait. In various vitae, or Saint's Lives, divine intervention is one of the normal climactic moments of the narrative to bring about the rescue of a saint or to cause a mass conversion among conventional pagan characters. Cf. vita.

DEUTERAGONIST: A sidekick who accompanies the main protagonist, the main character or hero, in a narrative. In The Advenures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, the slave Jim is a deuteragonist and Huck Finn is the protagonist. In The Lord of the Rings, the hero Frodo has his side-kick, trusty Samwise Gamgee. The deuteragonist may be either round or flat as a character, and he often serves as a foil to the protagonist as well. Note that classical scholars often use the word deuteragonist in a more restricted sense. In the oldest form of classical Greek drama, plays originally consisted of a single character standing on stage speaking with the chorus. Later dramatists introduced the innovation of a second actor (the deuteragonist) who stood on stage and donned a variety of masks to represent the other various characters besides the hero. A still later innovation was the tritagonist, a third character on stage which allowed more complex interactions of dialogue. (See further discussion under character, and see protagonist, round character, flat character, foil, and tritagonist.)

DEUTERONOMIC LAW: The belief that God could choose to wait several generations before punishing a sinful race for the sins of the fathers. Thus, the children or descendants of the original criminals or evildoers would suffer the consequences of their ancestors' choices regardless of their own piety or virtue. The idea originates in an Old Testament Biblical passage found in Deuteronomy 5:9: ". . . For I am the Lord thy God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." A similar passage in Ezekiel 18:2 and Jeremiah 31:29-30 ("The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge") was also read as an echo of this idea, though in general, the doctrine is referred to as Deuteronomic by Renaissance theologians. Renaissance historians, especially those influenced by Tudor propaganda, saw the Wars of the Roses and the subsequent series of incompetent kings (like Henry VI) and cruel tyrants (like Richard III) as God's punishment descending upon Britain for allowing Henry IV to usurp the throne from a legitimate ruler three generations earlier. Click here for PDF handout of this material.

DEUTSCHE MYTHOLOGIE (Ger. "Teutonic Mythology") (1) an important mythographic study by Jakob Grimm first published in 1835. Deutsche Mythologie was a foundational and strikingly comprehensive work studying Germanic mythology via the tools of etymology and folklore. (2) The combined mythology of the North, West, and East Germanic tribes--i.e., Viking sagas and myths in the northern reaches of Iceland and the Scandinavian Peninsula, Germanic deities from the continent mentioned in Roman records, Lombardic historical myths of the Italian Peninsula, the tales of the (now-extinct) Goths from Eastern Europe, and the lost pagan practices of the Anglo-Saxons before they converted to Christianity in Britain--especially in the sense these various myths may connect to each other in older, proto-Germanic form. As part of the philological mission to reconstruct the ancestral proto-Indo-European language using comparative linguistics, many nineteenth-century philogists applied similar comparative tools to explore the original myths of the proto-Germanic tribes that gave rise to the various legends among the three branches (North, West, and East) of Teutonic ethnic groups.

Many of those groups (such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Goths) left very little evidence behind in the way of complete mythologies, but in the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse tradition, we have extensive records of a mythology surrounding the Aesir and Vanir deities in the Poetic Edda. In these legends, the Germanic or Teutonic gods embodied in Old Norse were, as Tom Shippey states, "markedly different from the familiar biblical and classical mythologies. The Norse gods were more limited, more human, often more cruel, and at once harsher and funnier than the Greek and Latin pantheons. The stories about them offered an insight into a quite different worldview" (see Drout 449). Many 19th century scholars (and later Tolkien himself) explored whether this worldview was unique to the Norse, or whether it permeated the other branches of the Germanic tribes. Linguistic evidence suggested it did. For instance, the names of cognate deities appear in toponyms in Britain and continental Germany. Thus, the one-eyed all-father Odin in Old Norse has analogues in Woden in Anglo-Saxon and Wotan in pagan Germany, etc. On the other hand, the counter-argument was that similarities in names might not correspond with similarities in worldview. For example, just because Old English had the term Middan-Geard (Middle Earth), and Old Norse had Mithgarthr (Middle Earth), it does not necessarily follow that the Anglo-Saxons had an identical cosmology to the Vikings in which nine different worlds centered on the human one (See Shippey in Drout 449). Other evidence circumstantially was available in what the mythographers called "survivor-genres" (fairy tales, riddles, oral ballads, and nursery rhymes), and philologists argued that skilled investigators could recover or reconstruct missing parts of the lost mythoi from these later texts (449-450).

Deutsche mythologie profoundly influenced Tolkien's myth-making in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien plundered the Germanic legends for names, situations, creatures, and themes in his work (as well as material from Finland and Ireland). Readers of Tolkien will find the names of certain dwarves, elves, and other characters in The Eddas, while the Rohan speak in Germanic tongues like Old English. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien imitates Germanic compounding with neologisms such as Ring-Wraiths, etc. Likewise, in the various protogonists' more dire battles, Tolkien has these characters imitate the Germanic idea of Northern Courage (q.v).

DIACHRONIC (Grk, "across time"): An analysis of literature, history, or linguistics is diachronic if it examines changes or developments in a single area or discipline over the course of many centuries. This term is the opposite of a synchronic analysis, which limits itself to studying a single moment or time in history, but compares the traits or developments across a wide area of geography or a wide number of disciplines.

DIACOPE (from Greek, "cleft" or "gash"; also called Epizeuxis or repetition): Uninterrupted repetition, or repetition with only one or two words between each repeated phrase. Typically, the purpose of diacope is to show strong emotion. Peacham writes, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed." A character in a gothic novel might cry out, "Oh, horror, horror, horror!" Probably the most dramatic use of diacope is found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," in which Poe writes,

To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--

Diacope is an example of a rhetorical scheme. Do note that some rhetoricians such as Arthur Quinn and Richard Lanham suggest that diacope can, in another secondary meaning, be used interchangeably with tmesis.

DIACRITIC: An accent or change to a normal alphabetical letter to differentiate its pronunciation. Click here for examples.

DIALECT: The language of a particular district, class, or group of persons. The term dialect encompasses the sounds, spelling, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people as distinguished from other persons either geographically or socially. Dialect is a major technique of literary characterization that reveals the social or geographic status of a character. For example, Mark Twain uses exaggerated dialect in his Huckleberry Finn to differentiate between characters:

Jim: "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack yo' heels. Dat's de good ole Cairo at las', I jis knows it."

Huck: "I'll take the canoe and go see, Jim. It mightn't be, you know."

Other famous uses of dialect include the novels Silas Mariner and Middlemarch by George Eliot. The act of intentionally misspelling a word to create an artistic effect or the effect of dialect is called metaplasmus.

Old English and Middle English also had unique regional dialects. In Old English, the four major regional dialects were West Saxon, Kentish, Mercian, and Northumbrian. As the centuries went by, West Saxon became increasingly the standard. In Middle English, the major dialects included Southern, Kentish, West Midlands, East Midlands, and Northern.

Modern English in the British isles shows signs of both regional dialects and class dialects. Nearly each British county has its own peculiarities, and as A. C. Baugh notes, sometimes as many as three dialectal regions may be distinguished within the boundaries of a single shire (316). The diversity of dialects in the isles is well documented since the publication of the Survey of English Dialects in 1962.

Modern American English regional dialects include Eastern New England (Bostonian), New York, Inland Northern (Great Lakes), North Midland (covers southern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, north Delaware, and Maryland), Mid-southern (West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee), Southern (Virginia, South Carolina lowlands, Louisianna), General American, and Black English Vernacular. See also caste dialect, regional or geographical dialect, and ethnic dialect.

DIALOGUE: The lines spoken by a character or characters in a play, essay, story, or novel, especially a conversation between two characters, or a literary work that takes the form of such a discussion (e.g., Plato's Republic). Bad dialogue is pointless. Good dialogue either provides characterization or advances the plot. In plays, dialogue often includes within it hints akin to stage directions. For instance, if one character asks, "Why are you hitting me?" the reader can assume that on stage another character is striking the speaker. Noticing such details is particularly important in classical drama and in Shakespeare's plays since explicit stage directions are often missing.

DIAMANTE (Italian via French, "sparkling decoration," cognate with diamond, pronounced dee oh MON tay): A genre of simple concrete poetry consisting of a single unrhymed and untitled stanza with a visual structure shaped like a diamond. The poem is designed to be seen printed on a page rather than read aloud. The diamante stanza has seven lines and is normally used as children's poetry; accordingly, many elementary teachers are fond of using it to teach children parts of speech, antonyms, and simple poetic structure. Traditionally, the stanza structure is as follows:

  • Line one consists of a single noun.
  • Line two consists of two adjectives that describe the noun, usually separated by a comma.
  • Line three consists of three gerunds or present participles associated with the noun in line one.
  • Line four consists of four nouns in any order. Two nouns are associated loosely with the noun appearing in line one. The other two nouns--while somehow similar in nature with the other nouns in this line--are associated loosely with the final noun later appearing in line seven.
  • Line five consists of three gerunds or present participles associated with the final noun later appearing in line seven.
  • Line six consists of two adjectives that describe the final noun appearing in line seven.
  • Line seven consists of a single noun. This noun traditionally is an antonym or a word contrasting with the noun appearing in line one, or a noun that in some way contrasts with that noun appearing in line one--though some modern variants merely use another synonym for the first line or even even repeat the noun from line one.

This sounds complicated, but the overall design is simple to see in a complete poem. Here is a typical example:

Fiery, bright
Scorching, burning, laughing
Summer, daylight, moonbeams, shadows
Whispering, rustling, sleeping
Cool, eclipsed

DIAPER WORK: In spite of how unpleasant the word sounds, diaper work is actually a common, beautiful design in medieval manuscripts. Here is Kathleen Scott's succinct summary of diaper work: "A type of decorative background in which a series of parallel lines intersect at a 90-degree angle with another series of parallel lines to form a diamond lattice or a square lattice, with the internal surfaces rendered in colours and gold; usually used in miniatures." The overall result is much like the effect of modern wallpaper, in which a pattern appears over and over again in a slightly different location. This type of diaper work is often used as the background for medieval images.

DIARY: An informal record of a person's private life and day-to-day thoughts and concerns. Conventionally, daily entries take epistolary form with the introductory phrase, "Dear Diary." Since the subject-matter is so intimate, the authors of diaries usually do not intend for their contents to be published--though many famous ones have been published posthumously--including the diary of Sameul Pepys (complete with all his sexual indiscretions) or the diary of William Bird. Other important diaries include those of George Fox, John Wesley, and Fanny Burney in England, and (in America) Sarah K. Knight. Contrast with memoir and autobiography.

DICTION: The choice of a particular word as opposed to others. A writer could call a rock formation by many words--a stone, a boulder, an outcropping, a pile of rocks, a cairn, a mound, or even an "anomalous geological feature." The analytical reader then faces tough questions. Why that particular choice of words? What is the effect of that diction? The word choice a writer makes determines the reader's reaction to the object of description, and contributes to the author's style and tone. Compare with concrete diction and abstract diction, above. It is also possible to separate diction into high or formal diction, which involves elaborate, technical, or polysyllabic vocabulary and careful attention to the proprieties of grammar, and low or informal diction, which involves conversational or familiar language, contractions, slang, elision, and grammatical errors designed to convey a relaxed tone.

DIDACTIC LITERATURE: Writing that is "preachy" or seeks overtly to convince a reader of a particular point or lesson. Medieval homilies and Victorian moral essays are often held up as examples of didactic literature, but one might argue that all literature is didactic to one extent or another since the written word frequently implies or suggests an authorial attitude. Sometimes, the lesson is overtly religious, as in the case of sermons or in literature like Milton's Paradise Lost, which seeks to "justify God's ways to men." In a more subtle way, much of Romantic literature hints at a critique of urbanized and mechanized life in 19th-century London. See homily, propaganda, Victorian.

DIERESIS (also called an umlaut): A diacritic mark (¨) to show that vowels represent sounds of different quality--Algeo provides German Brüder ("brothers") and Bruder ("brother") as an example (316). In English, this marking indicates that the second of two vowels is pronounced separately from the earlier vowel. For instance, coöperate is pronounced as four syllables, not three, and the dieresis helps indicate this.

DIFFÉRANCE: Jacque Derrida's French term (untranslatable in English), which puns on the verb différer meaning "to differ" and "to defer," which he uses as an antonym for logocentrism (Cuddon 246). Basically, Derrida's starting spot is the linguist Sausure's theory about the arbitrary nature of language (i.e., that the combination of phonetic sounds we use a "sign" has no logical or necessary connection with the object it refers to). Derrida then pushes this idea to its logical extreme, "that to differ or differentiate is also to defer, postpone or withhold [meaning]" (246). Thus absolute meaning continuously and endlessly remains one step removed from the system of signs/words/symbols we use to discuss meaning. Cf. deconstruction.

DIGRAPH: Any use of two alphabetical letters or marks to indicate a single phonetic sound. For instance, in phonograph, the letters <ph> spell the /f/ sound. Likewise, in the word dumb, the letters <mb> create the /m/ sound, and in pick, the <ck> creates the /k/ sound. English regularly uses digraphs like <ch>, <th> and <sh> to indicate sounds for which there is no single symbol in the commonly used alphabet. Contrast with dipthong.

DIME NOVEL: Cheap or sensationalist publications, especially the series begun by E. F. Beadle in 1860--consisting of reprints of thrilling tales, violent action, brief romance, and episodes from famous wars and dramatic historical periods such as the American Civil War or the Frontier period. These dime novels were usually paperbound and sold for 10 cents in the 1920s in America, hence the common nick-name (Shipley 169). The first major example was Ann Sophia's Stephens's Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter, which sold over 300,000 copies in 1860 and remained immensely popular for a decade. Other famous authors who produced dime novels included Edward L. Wheeler, who created "Deadwood Dick," and J. R. Coryell, who created "Nick Carter," a detective who appeared in over one thousand separate short stories written by a dozen ghost writers up through the 1960s (Holman 162). Also called a yellow-back (for the cheap paper it was printed on), the dime novel as a mass market publication was the next generation of the earlier British "penny dreadfuls" of previous years.

DIMETER: A line containing only two metrical feet. See meter and foot.

DIMIDIATION: The heraldic practice of combining two animals in a coat-of-arms into a single composite creature.

DIMINUTIVE: Any affix meaning "small." It can suggest cuteness or an emotional attachment. An example is the word piglet, where the diminutive alters the normal word pig.

DING-DONG THEORY: The linguistic theory that language began as instinctive responses to stimuli (Algeo 316).

DIONYSIA: The Athenian religious festivals celebrating Dionysus in March-April. Dionysus (Roman Bacchus) was the god of intoxication, celebration, powerful emotion, and loss of self-control. At his festival, priests would sacrifice goats on the theater stage, and then actors would perform tragic plays in honor of the god, interspersed with brief comedies. (The word tragedy itself may originate in the Greek tragos--a goat song, or possibly in a pun on "billygoat singers.") See tragedy, Lenaia.

DIPODY: In classical prosody, dipody describes the combination of two feet into another single metrical unit. Often used interchangeably with the more general term syzygy, this dipody involves the substitution of two normal feet, usually iambs or trochees, under a more powerful beat, so that a "galloping" or "rolling" rhythm results. See iamb, meter, rhythm, and trochee. Dipody is common in children's rhymes, nursery rhymes, and ballads. J. A. Cuddon lists two examples in his Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory that are too lengthy to reproduce here, but serve to illustrate the effect well.

DIPHTHONG (from Greek dipthongus): A complex speech sound in which a speaker begins to articulate one vowel and moves to another vowel or semi-vowel sound by switching the position of tongue and lips. For example, in the common name Roy, the oy makes a diphthong in that the vowel positions shift from one noise to another. The term diphthong should not be confused with digraph (see above). Diphthongs are phonetic (dealing with the sounds of spoken words), and digraphs are graphemic (dealing with the act of recording words on the page as symbols or letters).

DIPTHONGIZATION: The change of a normal vowel into a diphthong.

DIRGE: See discussion of elegy, below.

DISCOVERY SPACE: According to Stephen Greenblatt, this is "A central opening or alcove concealed behind a curtain in the center of the frons scenae. The curtain could be drawn aside to "discover" tableaux such as Portia's caskets, the body of Polonius, or the statue of Hermione. Shakespeare appears to have used this stage device only sparingly" (1139).

DISPLACEMENT: This term in linguistics refers to the ability of language to indicate or signify things not physically present.

DISSIMILATION: A linguistic development in which two sounds become less alike. Algeo (317) offers the example of diphtheria, in which the final /f/ sound in the syllable <diph> tends to be hard to pronounce separately from the <th> following it. Through dissimilation, the normal pronunciation of /dIf/ becomes /dIp/.

DISTRIBUTIVE: One of several possible numbering systems in a language's grammar. For a discussion of distributives, see multiplicatives.

DISTYCH (also spelled distich): The technical term for a two-line group in which a pair of metrical lines of different lengths together compose or express a complete idea (Wheeler 38). In Greek elegies, these distychs are usually rhymed and composed with one line in dactylic hexameter followed by a line in dactylic pentameter. In Hebrew poetry such as the Psalms or Proverbs, the lines are typically unrhymed but contain elements of parallelism such as synonymous repetitions, antithesis, anaphora, or epistrophe (Wheeler 37-38).

DITHYRAMB: An ancient Athenian poetic form sung during the Dionysia (see above). The first tragedies may have originated from the dithyrambs. See tragedy.

DOG LATIN: Unidiomatic or crude pidgin Latin intermixed with local tongues. An example of dog latin appears in scene eight of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, when Robin the servant tries to invoke spirits: "Sanctobulorum Periphrasticon--nay, I'll tickle you, vinter--look to the goblet, Rafe--Polypragmos Belseborams framanto pacostiphos tostis Mephastophilis" (23-26). Cf. macaronic text.

DOLONEIA: A Greek nickname for the tenth book of Homer's Iliad, assumed by many scholars to be a late addition inserted long after the Homeric age. Many editions of Homer leave out this book entirely.

DOLCE STIL NUOVO (Italian, "sweet new style"): Dante uses this term to describe the style of lyric poetry he sought to create in the Purgatorio. He and other Italian poets like Guinicelli and Cavalcanti using this style are called stilnuovisti poets. The most important feature of this style is an attitude toward women and earthly love derived from troubadour poetry. This attitude depicts women as the ultimate form of God's beauty, and women are held to inspire a spiritual love in their male admirers that will ultimately lead them to Divine Love. This attempt to reconcile or combine sacred and sexual love contrasts starkly with monastic literature treating women as an evil temptation to good men.

DONATISM: The term donatism is an eponym taken from a bishop in North Africa named Donatus. During the patristic period, Donatus was upset by the readiness of the mainstream church to welcome back into its fold clergy who had temporarily renounced their faith in fear of Roman persecution. Donatus believed that such individuals were not fit to be priests, and that church rituals led by such individuals were worthless. This developed into the heresy of "donatism" in the medieval period. Donatists argued that baptisms, marriages, confessions, funerals, communion services, and other church rituals were invalid if the priest performing the ceremony was in a state of sin. Thus, the entire ministry of these lapsed clergy was considered invalid by these donatists. Accordingly, donatists declared that anyone "married" by a sinning priest was actually fornicating, and anyone who confessed and received absolution from evil clergy never actually received forgiveness of sins. Such people would need to have the rituals performed again by a priest in a state of grace.

In contrast, the orthodox Catholic belief (as set down by Saint Augustine) declared that priests were necessary instruments of the Holy Spirit, but it was the Holy Spirit itself that supplied a binding spiritual efficacy to church rituals. Accordingly, any rituals such as confession, marriage, or baptism received by a devout worshipper in an ordained church were still valid regardless of whether the priest performing the rites was himself in a state of grace. In Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale," one of the issues raised by the Pardoner is the question of whether or not the Pardoner's indulgences have any spiritual efficacy since the Pardoner is a self-confessed cheat and trickster. Ironically, the Pardoner takes an orthodox position, declaring a "ful vicious man" can still tell a moral tale, and he argues that those who buy his fake relics still benefit spiritually from the purchase even if the relics themselves are fakes.

DONNÉE (French, "given"): The assumptions upon which a writer constructs a work of literature. Some common examples include the assumption that young love is fickle, that society is bleak or dangerous for survivors of warfare, that guilt is inescapable, that following one's heart (or head) leads to happiness (or heartbreak), and so on. Contrast with cliché and theme.

DOSBARTH GWYNEDD: Also known as the Venodotian Code or the "four and twenty measures," the Dosbarth Gwynedd are an ancient and complex set of metrical rules for Welsh poetry associated with the Gwynedd region (north Wales) in contrast with the newer Dosbarth Morgannwg, a newer tradition (15th century) associated with the region of Glamorganshire. In general, the Dosbarth Gwynedd are considered the standard or "authentic" verse tradition, even though most modern Welsh poets tend to ignore this incredibly complex tradition and concentrate on smaller, simpler forms like the cywydd and the englyn.

DOSBARTH MORGANNWG: See discussion under Dosbarth Gwynedd.

DOUBLE DACTYL: A comic verse written with two quatrains, with each line written in dactylic dimeter. The second line may be a name, and the sixth or seventh line may be a single word. J. A. Cuddon's poem, "Nicholas Williamson," illustrates the technique:

Nicholas Williamson
Sat in the bathtub and
Scratched at his nose.
Seldom was schoolboy so
Gifted with flexible
Bendable toes.

DOUBLE ENTENDRE (French, "double meaning"): The deliberate use of ambiguity in a phrase or image--especially involving sexual or humorous meanings.

DOUBLE NEGATIVE: Two (or more) negatives used for emphasis, e.g., "I don't want no candy" as opposed to "I don't want any candy." Prescriptivist grammarians recommend avoiding double negatives in formal writing, but historians note this rule is of fairly recent manufacture in English history. Double negatives were perfectly acceptable in English up until the Enlightenment. For instance, the medieval author Chaucer routinely uses two to four double negatives in his descriptions--such as the Knight in The Canterbury Tales: "He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In al his lyf unto no maner wight" (GP 70-71).

DOUBLE PLOT: When an author uses two related plots within a single narrative. See futher discussion under subplot and plot.

DOUBLE RHYME: A rhyme that involves two syllables rather than one. For instance, rhyming lend/send is a single rhyme, in which each word consists of a single syllable. However, the words lending/sending constitute a double rhyme because two rhyming syllables are used. In English, most double rhymes create a feminine ending. Contrast with triple rhyme and feminine ending (under meter).

DOUBLE SUPERLATIVE: Double use of the superlative degree--such as the word foremost, which uses both the superlative sufix -m and -est (Algeo 317).

DOUBLET: In linguistics, a pair of words that derive from the same etymon, but since they were adapted at different times or by different routes, take on two different meanings. For instance, the Modern English words chief and chef both come from the same French word, originally meaning roughly "guy in charge." Chief was adopted, however, in a time when Norman French was associated with military power, and thus the word had contexts of "leader of a war band." The same word was adopted centuries later, however, in a time when Parisian French was associated with culture and culinary arts. Now, chef came to mean in English, "leader of a kitchen." Thus, the same word adopted twice can come to gain two different meanings.

DOUBLING: Greenblatt describes this process as, "The common [Renaissance] practice of having one actor play multiple roles, so that a play with a large cast of characters might be performed by a relatively small company" (1139).

DRACULA'S LAW: A helpful mnemonic phrase, "blood is good food" useful for remembering sound shifts in the vowel o from Middle English to Modern English. Originally, between 1200-1400, the letter <o> often indicated a long Middle English /o:/ but it rapidly developed into /u/, as in food, roof, and room, and root. However, in the 1400s, in some words, the vowel shortened and unrounded to the sound in blood and flood. In still other words, the letter retained the long vowel /o:/ until about 1700, but the vowel was then shortened without being unrounded, giving us the sound found in good, foot, and book. Thus, the standard pronunciation is as follows:

  • blood (c.1400-1500)
  • good (c. 1700 et passim)
  • food (c. 1200-1400)

DRAMA: A composition in prose or verse presenting, in pantomime and dialogue, a narrative involving conflict between a character or characters and some external or internal force (see conflict). Playwrights usually design dramas for presentation on a stage in front of an audience. Aristotle called drama "imitated human action." Drama may have originated in religious ceremonies. Thespis of Attica (sixth century BCE) was the first recorded composer of a tragedy. Tragedies in their earliest stage were performed by a single actor who interacted with the chorus. The playwright Aeschylus added a second actor on the stage (deuteragonist) to allow additional conflict and dialogue. Sophocles and Euripides added a third (tritagonist). Medieval drama may have evolved independently from rites commemorating the birth and death of Christ. During the late medieval period and the early Renaissance, drama gradually altered to the form we know today. The mid-sixteenth century in England in particular was one of the greatest periods of world drama. In traditional Greek drama, as defined by Aristotle, a play was to consist of five acts and follow the three dramatic unities. In more recent drama (i.e., during the last two centuries), plays have frequently consisted of three acts, and playwrights have felt more comfortable disregarding the confines of Aristotelian rules involving verisimilitude. See also unities, comedy, tragedy, revenge play, miracle play, morality play, and mystery play. An individual work of drama is called a play.



DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE: A poem in which a poetic speaker addresses either the reader or an internal listener at length. It is similar to the soliloquy in theater, in that both a dramatic monologue and a soliloquy often involve the revelation of the innermost thoughts and feelings of the speaker. Two famous examples are Browning's "My Last Duchess" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." Cf. interior monologue and monologue.

DRAMATIC POINT OF VIEW: See point of view.

DRAMATIC UNITIES: See Unities, three.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Latin: "people of the play"): A list of the complete cast, i.e., the various characters that will appear in the play. This list usually appears before the text of the main play begins in printed copies of the text. In late periods of drama, the dramatis personae often included a brief description of the character's personality or appearance. In the First Folio, such lists appeared at the end of some Shakespearean plays, but not at the end of all of them.

DRAUGR, DRAUGAR (Old Norse, "phantom," related to PIE drowgos, "deceive"; plural form is draugar or draugur): Also called aptrgangr ("again-walkers"), draugar are undead beings from Old Norse, Icelandic, Faroese, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian mythology. Animated blood-drinking corpses, these monsters were either death-blue ("hel-blár") or "corpse-white" ("nár-fölr") in color. Folklore depicted them as superhumanly strong, foul-smelling, and vengeful. They enjoyed crushing or suffocating victims, as depicted in the Hrómundar Saga. They possessed a number of powers, most notably the ability to drive men or animals insane, to control weather, to prophesy, to increase their mass at will, and to turn into smoke or pass through rock. The oldest legends distinguished between sea-draugar (vengeful spirits of the drowned), land-draugar (types that wandered at night and often preyed on shepherds), and a third variation known as haugbui. The latter type lurked in barrows, protecting the treasure-hoard buried therin. Any marginalized, evil, or unhappy person might become a draugr after death (especially those who were greedy or vengeful in life), but draugar were also infectious. Those they kill turn into draugar after death, as is the case in the story of Glam in Grettir's Saga and the story of the shepherd in the Eyrbyggja Saga. Along with vague Anglo-Saxon allusions to the wight (OE wiht), the Old Norse legends of draugar were Tolkien's primary inspiration for barrow-wights in The Lord of the Rings. Incidentally, in Nynorsk (modern Norwegian) translations of Tolkien's work, the word draugr is applied to the barrow-wights as well as to the Nazgûl ring-wraiths and the dead men of Dunharrow. Cf. wight, barrow.

DRAVIDIAN: Once, the aboriginal tongue of all India, but now spoken primarily in only the southern regions of that subcontinent.

DREAM VISION (Visio): A genre of poetry popular in the Middle Ages. By convention, a fictionalized version of the writer goes to sleep in a pleasant, natural springtime setting (May mornings being particularly popular). He has a dream that he relates to the reader. During the dream, he often encounters a mentor or spirit guide who takes him on a journey in which he encounters various historical or fictional figures engaged in allegorical activities. Through his interactions, the dreamer learns valuable spiritual, political, or intellectual truths and is transformed by the experience. One of the earliest literary works to influence the genre is Macrobius's (c. 400 CE) commentary on the Somnium Scipionis. Medieval examples from the continent include the Roman de la Rose (13th century), and Dante's Divine Comedy. Medieval examples from the British Isles include the Welsh Dream of Rhonabwy and English works such as Piers Plowman, Pearl, and Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, and the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. More recent versions include Bunyan's prose narrative called The Pilgrim's Progress, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and the film adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Compare with reverdie and aisling.

DUAL: In contrast to the singular and plural forms of nouns and pronouns in Modern English, Old English had a third category, the dual inflection for pronouns. This inflection referred to exactly two people or things. A dual form might refer to to the speaker and one other listener in the audience, for example. The Old English dual personal pronouns included these forms:

  • wit ("we two ")
  • unc ("us two ")
  • uncer or ("the two of ours, ours both")
  • git ("the two of you" i.e., "ye two")
  • inc ("you both")
  • incer ("yours both")

A number of these pronouns appear in The Wife's Lament. In Modern English, the old dual forms survive in only a few other linguistic fossils--such as the impersonal pronouns both, either, and neither. Several other Indo-European languages have or had a distinction between the dual and the plural--including Egyptian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Old Gothic, as Vincent Hopper notes (4). Other non-Indo-European languages like Hebrew also make this distinction.

DUANAIRÍ: Anthologies of Irish bardic poetry from between 1150-1500 CE. An example is The Yellow Book of Lecan (Trinity College Manuscript 1363).

DUMB SHOWS: These mimed scenes before a play or before each act in a play summarized or foreshadowed the coming events of the plot. These shows were common in early Renaissance drama, but Greenblatt notes that they already seemed old-fashioned in Shakespeare's time. Still, writers employed them up until the 1640s (Greenblatt 1139).

DUPLE METER: Poetry consisting of two syllables to a metrical foot, and one foot to each line. It is a rare form. One example noted in J. A. Cuddon's Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms comes from Herrick's "Upon His Departure Hence":

Thus I
Passe by,
And die:
As One,
And go.

DVOYEVERIE (Russian, "double faith"): The confusion or mixture of pagan and Christian elements in medieval Russian folklore (Harkins 118).

DYFALU: A Welsh term for a form of fanciful conceit in which a string of sequential metaphors compares an object to a number of diverse things--often using compound words in a manner similar to the Anglo-Saxon or Old Norse kenning. The 14th century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym is particularly known for this poetic technique. Cf. cataloging.

DYING RHYME: Another term for feminine metrical endings. See discussion under meter.

DYNAMIC CHARACTER: Also called a round character, a dynamic character is one whose personality changes or evolves over the course of a narrative or appears to have the capacity for such change. The round character contrasts with the flat character, a character who serves a specific or minor literary function in a text, and who may be a stock character or simplified stereotype. Typically, a short story has one round character and several flat ones. However, in longer novels and plays, there may be many round characters. The terms flat and round were first coined by the novelist E. M. Forster in his study, Aspects of the Novel. See flat character, character, characterization, round character, and stock character.

DYSTOPIA (from Greek, dys topos, "bad place"): The opposite of a utopia, a dystopia is an imaginary society in fictional writing that represents, as M. H. Abrams puts it, "a very unpleasant imaginary world in which ominous tendencies of our present social, political, and technological order are projected in some disastrous future culmination" (Glossary 218). For instance, while a utopia presents readers with a place where all the citizens are happy and ruled by a virtuous, efficient, rational government, a dystopia presents readers with a world where all citizens are universally unhappy, manipulated, and repressed by a sinister, sadistic totalitarian state. This government exists at best to further its own power and at worst seeks actively to destroy its own citizens' creativity, health, and happiness. Examples of fictional dystopias include Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]


I consulted the following works while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:

Works Cited:

  • Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1993. [Now superseded by later editions.]
  • ---. "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 2000. 2944-61. 2 Vols.
  • Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles. The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition. U.S.A., 2004.
  • Anderson, Douglas. "Note on the Text" in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. 50th anniversary edition. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
  • Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. [Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
  • Carrick, Jake. E-mail interview. 28 April 2016.
  • Catholic University of America Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967-79.
  • Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
  • Crow, Martin and Virginia E. Leland. "A Chronology of Chaucer's Life and Times." As condensed and reproduced in Larry Benson's The Canterbury Tales, Complete. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. xxiii-xxv.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
  • Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
  • Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Duffy, Seán. Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
  • Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
  • Feeney, Denis. "Introduction." Ovid: Metamorphóses Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
  • Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
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