Terms and Definitions: E
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated 14 March, 2014.
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.
TEXT, THE (Also called the E
Document or the Elohist Text):
In biblical scholarship, the editorial abbreviation for
the Elohist Text (see
below or or click here for more detailed
MODERN ENGLISH: Modern English covers the time-frame
from about 1450 or so up to the present day. However, linguists
sometimes subdivide Modern English into "Early Modern"
(c. 1450-1800) and "Late Modern" (c. 1800 to
OF ARTICULATION: The linguistic concern for how certain
sound changes in words might be motivated by how easy or hard
the word is to pronounce.
GERMANIC: A sub-branch of the Germanic language family.
Gothic was an East Germanic language.
UPRISING: On Easter Monday in 1916, about 1,200
Irish revolutionaries armed with only rifles engaged in an
aborted rebellion against English domination of their country.
They attempted to capture the fourteen most prominent buildings
in Dublin (including most famously the General Post Office).
The British responded by using heavy cannon to flatten the
buildings in rebel hands. The rebels attempted a final stand
near (ironically) King's Street, but they were wiped out with
significant loss of life among Irish civilians and noncombatants
who attempted to hide from the fighting. Secret military courts
tried and executed rebel leaders--some apparently tied up
to chairs and shot in spite of being previously wounded. The
Easter Uprising was significant because it lead to anti-British
sentiment in Ireland. It built up a greater sense of Irish
national identity apart from English control, and it rekindled
the failing republican movement. Several prominent Irish poets
and authors wrote works based on or inspired by this incident,
including W. B. Yeats' "Easter 1916." The violence
and bloodshed probably also influenced Yeats' "The Second
Coming" in a more abstract sense.
WORDS: Another term
i.e., when the actual sound of the word resembles its referent--like
fizz or hiss.
See onomatopoeia under tropes.
(Greek "leaving out," cf. Modern English eclipse):
A type of enallage
in which an author or poet omits essential grammatical elements
to create a poetic or artful effect. One example might be
the following: "This
sentence no verb!" In
this example, the necessary verb has
vanishes, but the intentional effect is to highlight its omission.
This term is not to be confused with ellipsis,
discussion under mutation.
(Greek "selection"): A short poem or short section
of a longer poem in the form of a dialogue or soliloquy--especially
one with pastoral
elements. The term was first applied to Virgil's pastoral
poems, but the term covers Renaissance
imitators as well. Examples include Spenser's The Shepheard's
Calendar (1579). After the 1700s, the term increasingly
came to mean any poem having the structural form of the earlier
eclogues--even works that were not pastoral. Examples of these
eclogues include Swift's A Town Eclogue, Frost's Build
Soil, or W. H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque
Eclogue. The term should not be confused with epilogue,
(plural, ecphrases): A passage of
literature or poetry in which the writer disrupts the narrative
and writes a lengthy passage describing, representing, or
"translating" another type of art such as a painting,
a piece of architecture or sculpture, or music. This ecphrasis
is the "translation" of one type of non-verbal art
into words. See discussion under mimesis.
In deconstruction, writing as a social institution and
as a group of inter-related texts. This results in textuality--a
term for the idea that no single literary work can be studied
as an autonomous object, but that each text is part of
of a larger, culturally endorsed collection of texts, conventions,
codes, and meanings.
EDH: Another spelling of the word eth.
In Greek comedy, the eiron was a stock male character
known for his ironic understatement. This character deliberately
pretended to be less clever than he actually was, yet his
superior verbal skills and cunning allowed him to win out
over braggarts and bullies. In many ways, the techniques of
the eiron mirror those of Socratic
irony used in philosophical debate.
VERBAL: A sudden verbal outburst or interjection
expressing a strong emotion, surprise, dismay, disbelief,
or pain--such as teehee,
ho-ho, and ouch.
"ecstasy"): In Greek thinking, ekstasos is
a non-rational state of mind that people achieve by losing
themselves in an experience--becoming so engrossed
in a sensation or a moment that one forgets about one's
one's life, and all other considerations beyond that emotion
or feeling. That ekstasos can be provided by
wild dancing, profound mourning and weeping,
sexual pleasure, or religious enthrallment. This mental
state contrasted with logos (rationality
and logic). Ekstasos was a dangerous condition
due to that irrationality, but it was a necessary and holy
one for the ancient Greeks--a transcendental
experience that took the initiate beyond the normal bounds
of behavior and his or her mortal limitations for a short
time. Unlike the English word "ecstasy," which
implies pleasure, the Greeks thought of ekstasos as
from any sufficiently
strong emotion whether positive or negative. Grief and
pain could be gateways to it as easily as pleasure. A
worshipper of Aphrodite in the Acrocorinth would undergo ekstasos in
the arms of a temple prostitute, but a theater-goer would
ekstasos while watching a tragic play and feeling
pity and fear through catharsis,
and the worshippers of Dionysus/Bacchus would experience
ekstasos while dancing drunkenly, or a
Maenad priestess while tearing an animal apart in a frenzy.
While most English translations think of Dionysus or Bacchus
as being a god of "revelry," the Greek term ekstasos
indicates a far different and more complex phenomenon to describe
THE: John Calvin's
Puritan doctrines emphasized God's prescience and omnipotence
and de-emphasized human free will. Accordingly, for Calvin,
the vast majority of humanity is fated for damnation because
of their total
depravity and original
sin, and only a
small percentage of humanity has been pre-selected for
in Christ. God has predestined this small sliver of the
faithful, called "the elect," to turn to
repent of their sins. They are predestined to be materially
prosperous and successful in this life, and fated to
next. The idea of the Elect plays a significant part in
literary works like The Scarlet Letter and in Puritan
In classical Greco-Roman literature, "elegy" refers
to any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating hexameter
and pentameter lines). More broadly, elegy came to mean any
poem dealing with the subject-matter common to the early Greco-Roman
elegies--complaints about love, sustained formal lamentation,
or somber meditations. Typically, elegies are marked by several
(1) The elegy, much
like the classical epic, typically begins with an invocation
of the muse, and then continues with allusions
to classical mythology.
(2) The poem usually contains
speaker who uses the first person.
(3) The speaker raises
questions about justice, fate, or providence.
(4) The poet digresses
about the conditions of his own time or his own situation.
(5) The digression allows
the speaker to move beyond his original emotion or thinking
to a higher level of understanding.
(6) The conclusion of
the poem provides consolation or insight into the speaker's
situation. In Christian elegies, the lyric reversal often
moves from despair and grief to joy when the speaker realizes
that death or misfortune is but a temporary barrier separating
one from the bliss of eternity.
(7) The poem tends to
be longer than a lyric
but not as long as an epic.
(8) The poem is not plot-driven.
In the case of pastoral
elegies in the 1600s, 1700s, and early 1800s, there are
several other common conventions:
(1) The speaker mourns
the death of a close friend; the friend is eulogized in
the highest possible terms, but represented as if he were
(2) The mourner charges
with negligence the nymphs or guardians of the shepherd
who failed to preserve him from death.
(3) Appropriate mourners
appear to lament the shepherd's death.
poets often include an elaborate passage in which flowers
appear to deck the hearse or grave, with various flowers
having symbolic meaning appropriate to the scene.
Famous elegies include Milton's
"Lycidas," Shelley's "Adonais," and Arnold's
"Thyrsis." Closely related to the pastoral elegy,
or threnody is shorter than the elegy and often represented
as a text meant to be sung aloud. The term monody refers
to any dirge or elegy presented as the utterance of a single
speaker. Various Anglo-Saxon poems such as "The Wife's
Lament" and "The Wanderer" are also considered
elegies, though the term might not be perfectly applicable since
the influence of the Greek elegy was never pervasive in Anglo-Saxon
literature, making it unlikely the anonymous authors were familiar
with the genre per se.
THE FOUR: The alchemical theory that all matter was composed
of four components: earth, air, fire, and water. Each element
had two spectrums of quality: hot/cold and dry/wet. For instance,
earth was cold and dry. Water was cold and wet. Fire was hot
and dry, and so on. Varying combinations of elements resulted
in the four bodily humors
(see below) of the physical body. Like the Chain
of Being, the elements were arranged hierarchically,
with varying elements given qualities that made them subordinant
or dominant. The lowest, earth, was beneath all the other elements.
The highest, fire, was above all the others. References to the
elements appear frequently in medieval and Renaissance literature,
and these allusions often have complex but easily overlooked
political, spiritual, and cosmological significance if one does
not recall the hierarchical nature of the elements in alchemical
models. Click here for a downloadable PDF chart of the elements.
ELEOS (Grk, "pity"): The emotional purgation of negative feelings known as catharsis involved, according to Aristotle's Poetics, two emotions: eleos (pity) and phobos (fear). If the audience did not feel pity for the tragic hero in a play, or feel fear at his downfall, the play failed in its purpose. See discussion under catharsis.
(verb form, elide): (1) In
poetry, when the poet takes a word that ends in a vowel, and
a following word that begins with a vowel, and blurs them together
to create a single syllable, the result is an elision. Contrast
lines. To download a PDF handout that discussing elision and
other techniques in conjunction with meter, click
here. (2) In linguistics, elision refers
more generally to the omission of any sound in speech and writing,
such as the word Hallowe'en (from "All Hallows
Evening") or in contractions like shan't (from
Occurring in the time of Queen Elizabeth I's reign, from 1558-1603.
Shakespeare wrote his early works during the Elizabethan period.
This term is often juxtaposed with the Jacobean
Period, the time following Elizabeth's reign when King James
I ruled, from 1603 to 1625.
MANUSCRIPT: Usually referred to as "the Ellesmere,"
this book is one of the most important surviving fifteenth-century
manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The beautiful
Ellesmere manuscript contains the best illumination and a set
of portraits of each pilgrim. It is currently housed in the
Huntington Library at San Marino, California. Cf. Hengwrt
ELLIPSIS (plural, ellipses): (1) In
its oldest sense as a rhetorical device, ellipsis refers
to the artful omission of a word implied by a previous clause.
For instance, an author might write, "The American soldiers
killed eight civilians, and the French eight." The writer
of the sentence has left out the word soldiers after
French, and the word civilians after eight.
However, both words are implied by the previous clause, so a
reader has no trouble following the author's thought. See schemes.
An ellipsis is similar to an eclipsis,
but differs in that an eclipsis has a word or words missing
that may not be implied by a previous clause. (2) In
its more modern sense, ellipsis refers to a punctuation mark
indicated by three periods to indicate material missing from
a quotation . . . like so. This mark is common in
MLA format for indicating partial quotations.
TEXT, THE (Also called the E
Document or the Elohist Text):
Not to be confused with "electronic" or digital
texts, the term E Text comes
from biblical scholarship of the Torah. Based on the date
of its language, elements of anthropomorphism, and certain
folkloric qualities, most biblical scholars think the section
from Genesis 2:4-3:3 comes from an older textual tradition
than the material found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Scholars think
the section from Genesis 2:4 onward was once part of a
separate textual tradition known as the "E
Text" or the Elohist Text because
the writer in this tradition uses Elohim as the
plural name of God (singular El) and because it
is written in a dialect probably associated with the Northern
kingdom of Israel around Ephraim. Paleography and linguistics
would date this section to about 799-700 BCE in the northern
kingdom of Israel. Contrast with the P
Text and the J
Text, or click here for more detailed
discussion. If students are reading a study Bible like
the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully
mark in the margins which sections come from the E Text,
the J Text, or the P Text.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's term for a private
symbol. He also refers to private symbols as tokens.
Examples include the blasted trees and brown-grass in "The
Hollow of the Three Hills" or the walking stick carried
by the old man and the pink ribbon belonging to Faith in "Young
(Greek, "interchange"): Intentionally misusing grammar
to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase. Boxing
manager Joe Jacobs, for instance, became immortal with the phrase,
"We was robbed!" Or, the editors of Punch magazine might
tell their British readers, "You pays your money, and you takes
your chances." Similarly, in Shakespeare, we find "And
hang more praise upon deceased I" (Sonnet 72). We also
find the intentional misuse of subject-verb agreement when a
Shakespearean character asks, "Is there not wars? Is there
not employment?" (2nd Henry IV, I, ii). Cf. eclipsis.
A linguistic formation in which a separate word, during the
process contraction, becomes part of the word preceding it.
Algeo offers the examle of 'll
for will in the contraction
METHOD: Another term for framing
An official statement by the papacy. Individual encyclicals
lack titles in the modern sense, and they are normally refered
to by their opening words (in Latin).
See discussion under link.
RHYME: Rhyme in which the last word at the end of each
verse is the word that rhymes. This contrasts with internal
rhyme, in which a word in the middle of each line
of verse rhymes, or so-called head
rhyme, in which the beginning consonant in a word
alliterates with another beginning consonant in a different
RHYME: In poetry, a line ending
in a full pause, often indicated by appropriate punctuation
such as a period or semicolon. This contrasts with enjambement
or run-on lines, in which the grammatical sense of the sentence
continues uninterrupted into the next line. Here is an example
of end-stopped rhyme from Robert Browning's "Soliloquy
of the Spanish Cloister":
go, my heart's abhorrence!
your damned flowerpots, do.
hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
blood, would not mine kill you!
your myrtle bush wants trimming?
that rose has prior claims--
it leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!
Readers will note that at the end of
each line, the reader finds a punctuation mark that indicates
a pause in speech or a break in grammatical structure. The
sentence-structure has been deliberately designed to fall
naturally with the end of each line. Contrast this technique
SONNET: Another term for a Shakespearean sonnet. See discussion
or click here to
download a PDF handout.
A group of certain Welsh tercets and quatrains written in
strict Welsh meters including monorhyme
especially in poems that make use of cynghanedd.
The simplest example of an englyn is the soldiers'
englyn, a rhymed tercet in which each line has seven
(French, "straddling," in English also called "run-on
line," pronounced on-zhahm-mah):
A line having no pause or end punctuation but having uninterrupted
grammatical meaning continuing into the next line. Here is
an example from George S. Viereck's "The Haunted House":
lay beside you; on your lips the while
Hovered most strange the mirage of a smile
Such as a minstrel lover might have seen
Upon the visage of some antique queen. . . .
You will note there is
no punctuation or pause at the end of lines one, two, and
three. Instead, the meaning continues uninterrupted into the
next line. Contrast this technique with end-stopped
(also called the neoclassic movement): the philosophical
and artistic movement growing out of the Renaissance and continuing
until the nineteenth century. The Enlightenment was an optimistic
belief that humanity could improve itself by applying logic
and reason to all things. It rejected untested beliefs, superstition,
and the "barbarism" of the earlier medieval period,
and embraced the literary, architectural, and artistic forms
of the Greco-Roman world. Enlightenment thinkers were enchanted
by the perfection of geometry and mathematics, and by all
things harmonious and balanced. The period's poetry, as typified
by Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and others, attempted to create
perfect, clockwork regularity in meter. Typically, these Enlightenment
writers would use satire to ridicule what they felt were illogical
errors in government, social custom, and religious belief.
For me, I have found one
useful exercise to understand the difference between the Enlightenment
and the Romantic aesthetic that followed. This exercise is
examining the architecture of English and continental gardens
in each period. In the Enlightenment, the garden would be
kept neatly trimmed, with only useful or decorative plants
allowed to grow, and every weed meticulously uprooted. The
trees would be planted according to mathematical models for
harmonious spacing, and the shrubbery would be pruned into
geometric shapes such as spheres, cones, or pyramids. The
preferred garden walls would involve Greco-Roman columns perfectly
spaced from each other in clean white marble, smoothly burnished
in straight edges and lines. If a stream or well were available,
the architect might divert it down a carefully designed irrigation
path, or pump it into the spray of a marble fountain. Such
a setting was considered ideal for hosting civilized gatherings
and leisurely strolls through the grounds. Such features were
common in gardens from the 1660s up through the late 1790s.
Nature was something to be shaped according to the dictates
of human will and tamed according to the rules of human logic.
On the other hand, the
later Romanticists might be horrified at the artificial
imposed upon nature. The ideal garden in the Romantic period
might be planted in the ruins of an ancient cloister or
Wild ivy might be encouraged to grow along the picturesque,
rough-hewn walls. Rather than ornamental shrubbery, fruit
trees would be planted. The flowers might be loosely clustered
according to type, but overgrown random patterns caused
the natural distribution of wind and rain were considered
more aesthetically pleasing. Even better, rather than
a garden, a Romanticist nature-lover would be encouraged
to walk in the untamed wilderness, clambering up and down
uneven rocks and gullies of a natural stream. Many Romanticists
who inherited Enlightenment gardens simply tore the structures
down and allowed the grounds to run wild. Nature was considered
something larger than humanity, and the passions it inspired
in its untamed form were considered healthier (more "natural")
than the faint-hearted passions originating in falsely imposed
human design. Cf. aufklärung.
To download a PDF handout that lists the major literary
movements or periods in chronological order, click
here. To download Kant's definition of Enlightenment,
WRITINGS: Writings focused on nature or man's relationship
to nature, especially the transcendental
essays and meditations
of Thoreau and Emerson in the nineteenth century and the ecological
writings of Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey, and Diane Ackerman
in the twentieth century.
An alternative French spelling for envoy,
Also spelled, envoi, the word envoy refers
to a postscript added to the end of a prose writing or a short
verse stanza (often using different meter and rhyme) attached
to the conclusion of a poem. An example appears at the end
of Chaucer's "Clerk's Tale."
Repeating a word in the middle
of a clause in either the opening or the conclusion of the
same sentence for artistic effect. Philip Sidney uses this
technique in this line from Arcadia: "Hear
you this soul-invading voice, and count it but a voice?"
Repeating a word from the beginning of a clause or phrase
at the end of the same clause or phrase: "Year chases year."
Or "Man's inhumanity to man." As Voltaire reminds us, "Common
sense is not so common." As Shakespeare chillingly phrases
it, "Blood will have blood." Under Biblical lextalionis
one might demand "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,
a life for a life."
(also called infixation): Adding an extra
syllable or letters in the middle of a word. Shakespeare
write, "A visitating spirit came last night" (instead of "visiting"
spirit). This choice perhaps highlights the unnatural status
of the visit, or perhaps shows the speaker is being pretentious
or flustered in his diction. More prosaically, Ned Flanders
from The Simpsons might say, "Gosh-diddly-darn-it,
Homer" (instead of "gosh-darn-it, Homer"). Epenthesis
has resulted in new words in English--such as the word thimble,
which developed from the earlier word thimel.
An epic in its most specific sense is a genre
of classical poetry. It is a poem that is (a) a long
narrative about a serious subject, (b) told in an elevated
style of language, (c) focused on the exploits of a
hero or demi-god who represents the cultural values of a race,
nation, or religious group (d) in which the hero's
success or failure will determine the fate of that people
or nation. Usually, the epic has (e) a vast setting,
and covers a wide geographic area, (f) it contains
superhuman feats of strength or military prowess, and gods
or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action.
The poem begins with (g) the invocation of a muse to
inspire the poet and, (h) the narrative starts in
medias res (see above). (i) The epic contains
long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing
on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants
J. A. Cuddon notes that
the term primary epic refers to folk epics,
i.e., versions of an epic narrative that were transmitted
orally in pre-literate cultures; the term secondary
epic refers to literary epics,
i.e., versions that are actually written down rather than
chanted or sung (284). Often, these
secondary epics retain elements of oral-formulaic transmission,
such as staggered intervals in which the poet summarizes
earlier events, standardized epithets and
phrases originally used by singers to fill out dactylic
during extemporaneous performance, and so on.
The term epic applies
most accurately to classical Greek texts like the Iliad and
However, some critics have applied the term more loosely.
The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf has
also been called an epic of Anglo-Saxon culture, Milton's Paradise
been seen as an epic of Christian culture, and Shakespeare's
various History Plays have been
collectively called an epic of Renaissance Britain. Other
examples include Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered and
the anonymous Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the
oldest example known. Contrast with mock
epic. See epic
simile below. Click here to a download
a PDF handout discussing the epic's conventional
EPIC HERO: The main character in an epic poem--typically one who embodies the values of his or her culture. For instance, Odysseus is the epic hero in the Greek epic called The Odyssey--in which he embodies the cleverness and fast-thinking Greek culture admired. Aeneas is the epic hero in the Roman epic The Aeneid--in which he embodies the pietas, patriotism, and the four cardinal virtues the Romans admired. If we stretch the term epic more broadly beyond the strict confines of the Greco-Roman tradition, we might read Beowulf as loosely as an epic hero of Beowulf and Moses as the epic hero of Exodus. See epic above, and avoid confusing the epic hero with the tragic hero. See also the Russian equivalent, the bogatyr.
SIMILE: A formal and sustained simile
(see under tropes).
Like a regular simile, an epic simile makes a comparison between
one object and another using "like" or "as." However, unlike
a regular simile, which often appears in a single sentence,
the epic simile appears in the genre
of the epic and it may be developed at great length, often
up to fifty or a hundred lines. Examples include Homer's comparison
between Odysseus clinging to the rocks and an octopus with
pebbles stuck in its tentacles, or Virgil's comparison between
the city of Carthage and a bee-hive. For an example of a Homeric
epic simile from The Odyssey, click
here. See epic,
PRONOUN: A gender-neutral pronoun for human beings.
English does have gender-neutral pronouns for objects (it,
its), but it does not have epicene pronouns for people--only
masculine and feminine ones (he, him, his
or she, her, her). Increasingly,
common speech has been using the plural pronouns they,
them, and their to fulfill this function, though
this often grates on the ears of traditional grammarians when
this plural pronoun is applied to a singular antecedent.
The Greek philosophy of Epicurus, who espoused a life of gentle
hedonism ameliorated by rational moderation. His idea of epicureanism
was so refined as to almost be ascetic. For instance, he urged
that pleasures should be best tasted one at a time, and strung
out with slow relish. Gorging, over-indulgence, and excess
defeated the point because it would lead to future miseries
like indigestion, hangover, and exhaustion. Epicurus accordingly
argued that the wise hedonist would balance immediate pleasure
with long-term comfort. In common modern usage, however, the
bit about "rational moderation" usually gets left
out, reducing the philosophy to one of unadulterated pleasure-seeking.
Epicurus also advocated avoiding public life or stressful
In late Roman times, aristocrats
adopted and perverted the older Greek Epicurean doctrine.
They focused on overindulgence. Food, wine, entertainment,
and slave girls became the chief pleasures--and in the later
days of the Roman Empire, social phenomena like the vomitorium
and the orgy arose. See further discussion under Roman
Stoicism. We can see an epicurean influence on
Chaucer's "General Prologue," where the aging Franklin
is described as a son of Epicurus.
(from Greek epigramma "an inscription"):
(1) An inscription in verse or prose on a
building, tomb, or coin. (2) a short verse
or motto appearing at the beginning of a longer poem or the
title page of a novel, at the heading of a new section or
paragraph of an essay or other literary work to establish
mood or raise thematic concerns. The opening epigram to Edgar
Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is
one such example. (3) A short, humorous poem,
often written in couplets, that makes a satiric point. Coleridge
once described this third type of epigram using an epigram
himself: "A dwarfish whole, / Its
body brevity, / and wit its soul."
A conclusion added to a literary work such as a novel, play,
or long poem. It is the opposite of a prologue.
Often, the epilogue refers to the moral of a fable.
Sometimes, it is a speech made by one of the actors at the
end of a play asking for the indulgence of the critics and
the audience. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
contains one of the most famous epilogues. Contrast with prologue.
Do not confuse the term with eclogue.
A summary of the moral of the fable appearing at the end of
the main narrative. If it is found at the beginning of the
narrative, it is called a promythium.
Contrast with prologue
Christian thinkers used this term to signify a manifestation
of God's presence in the world. It has since become in modern
fiction and poetry the standard term for the sudden flare
into revelation of an ordinary object or scene. In particular,
the epiphany is a revelation of such power and insight that
it alters the entire world-view of the thinker who experiences
it. (In this sense, it is similar to what a scientist might
call a "paradigm shift.") Shakespeare's Twelfth
Night takes place on the Feast of the Epiphany, and the
theme of revelation is prevalent in the work. James Joyce
used the term epiphany to describe personal revelations such
as that of Gabriel Conroy in the short story "The Dead"
A scene involving the actors' dialogue and action rather than
the chorus's singing, or sections of such scenes in a Classical
Greek tragedy. Divisions separating the episodes were called
stasima. During the stasima, the chorus sang.
Note that Greek tragedies were performed without any breaks
The Greek word for episode.
Occurring in a long string of short, individual scenes, stories,
or sections, rather than focusing on the sustained development
of a single plot. These episodes may be unrelated to each
other directly, or they may be loosely connected together
in terms of overall events. Picaresque
romances, and collections like 1001 Arabian
Nights are often said to be episodic.
(1) A poem addressed to a patron, friend, or family member,
thus a kind of "letter" in verse. (2) An actual
prose letter sent to another. (3) A distinct part
or section of such a poem or letter.
Taking the form of a letter, or actually consisting of a letter
written to another. For instance, several books in the New
Testament written by Saint Paul are epistolary--they were
originally letters written to newly founded Christian churches.
Sometimes, novelists will write an epistolary novel, in which
the story is unveiled as a series of letters between the characters.
Some examples include C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters,
Richardson's Pamela (1740), Fanny Burney's Evelina,
Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse, Hannah
W. Foster's The Coquette, and John Barth's Letters.
NOVEL: Any novel that
takes the form of a series of letters--either written by one
character or several characters. The form allows an author
to dispense with an omniscient point of view, but still switch
between the viewpoints of several characters during the narrative.
(Greek, "upon turning"): Repetition of a concluding
word or word endings: "He's learning fast; are you earning
fast?" When the epistrophe focuses on sounds rather than entire
words, we normally call it rhyme.
Epistrophe is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
(Greek, "at the Bridal Chamber," plural epithalamia):
A wedding hymn sung in classical Greece outside the bride's
room on her wedding night. Sappho is traditionally believed
to have been the first poet to begin the tradition. Renaissance
poets revived the custom, including Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser,
Donne, Ben Jonson, Herrick, Crashaw, Dryden, and Marvell.
largely fell out of favor during the Enlightenment, but it
enjoyed a brief respite during the Romantic period. The Latin
equivalent is called an epithalamium.
The Latin term for an epithalamion.
Not to be confused with epithet
an epitaph refers literally to an inscription carved on
gravestone, aka, cenotaph. In a more general sense, an epitaph
is the final statement spoken by a character before his death.
of Shakespeare's plays, it is common for the last words a
character speaks to come true, especially if he utters a
Shakespeare's own epitaph in the chancel of Holy Trinity
Church, Stratford-upon-Avon is rather famous: GOOD FREND
SAKE FORBEARE TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE BLESTE BE
Y MAN Y SPARES THES STONES AND CVRST BE HE Y MOVES MY BONES."
The Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare
provides the best available photo-facsimile of it. Other
famous epitaphs include John Keats' grave inscription: "Here
lies one whose name was writ in water." A long list
of such literary epitaphs can be found here.
A short, poetic nickname--often in the form of an adjective
phrase--attached to the normal name. Frequently, this technique
allows a poet to extend a line by a few syllables in a
manner that characterizes an individual or a setting within
an epic poem. (1) The Homeric epithet in classical
literature often includes compounds of two words such
Achilles," "Cow-eyed Hera," "Grey-eyed Athena," or "the wine-dark
sea." In other cases, it appears as a phrase, such as "Odysseus
the man-of-many-wiles," or whatnot. Click here for more
examples. (2) The historical
is a descriptive phrase attached to a ruler's name. For instance,
King Alfred the Great, Duke Lorenzo the Magnificent, Robert
the Devil, Richard the Lionheart, and so on. (3) The generally
descriptive epithet would appear in Old
Norse and Germanic cultures to help distinguish individuals,
thus giving us (in Njal's Saga) colorful names such
as Hallbjorn Half-Troll, Ulf the Squinter, Hjorleif the Womanizer,
Do not confuse the epithet with the epitaph
(also called diacope): Uninterrupted
repetition, or repetition with only one or two words between
each repeated phrase. Typically, the purpose of epizeuxis
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 epizeuxis is found
in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," in which Poe writes,
the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--
is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
A word that is derived from the proper name of a person
or place. For instance, the sandwich gained its
name from its inventor, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The
word lynch comes from Captain William Lynch, who
led bands of vigilantes to hang hoboes and bums residing
near Pittsylvania County. The verb shanghai, meaning
to kidnap or press into forced labor, comes from the practices
of conscription common in the oriental city of Shanghai.
The word stentorian comes from the loud-mouthed
Stentor in Greek legend, and herculean comes from
the muscle-bound Hercules, and so on.
EPONYMOUS ARCHON: See archon, eponymous.
See discussion under pun.
A religious hermit. Eremites are stock character in vitae
and in chivalric
romances. See discussion under eremitic
TRADITION: An eremite
is a hermit--one who deliberately lives alone seeking spiritual
enlightenment in the desert, forest, or wilderness. The
first five centuries of Christianity were marked by a number
of eremitic (hermitic) traditions and cenobitical (monastic)
traditions in which devout Christians attempted to remove
themselves from what they saw as a corrupt, materialistic
world in favor of spiritual contemplation either alone in
the wilderness or together with like-minded folk within
a monastery's walls. They often modeled themselves on Old
Testament prophets or on the example of Christ spending
forty days and nights in the wilderness facing Satan's temptations.
Examples of eremites from The New Catholic Encyclopedia
include John the Baptist, Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil,
Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint
Jerome (the translator of the Bible into Latin), Saint Nilus,
Saint Isidore of Pelusium, Saint Epiphanius, Saint Mary
Magdalene, and countless others.
The eremites became the basis for
many early Christian legends. Many saints' lives
writings focus on the miracles and sufferings
of these isolationist mystics. Saint Anthony, for instance,
was famed for physically wrestling with demons in the Egyptian
desert, as described in his vita by Saint Athanasius.
Saint Kevin (Irish Coemghen) was renowned for a series of
miracles (and his infamous "nettle-bathes," when
he would roll naked in thorn bushes).
Likewise, in medieval
Romance, one of the stock
characters is the hermit. The knight-errant
encounters him in the forest, and the hermit conventionally
provides food, shelter, medical care, and spiritual advice
for wounded knights in medieval literature. In later protestant
works like Spenser's The Fairy Queen, the hermit
might be an evil sorcerer (like Archimago) in disguise,
however! This change in characterization reflects the difference
in protestant attitudes and catholic attitudes towards eremites.
The figure of the hermit (often depicted
as mad or magical) has almost become an archetype in literature
and film. Witness the Star Wars character of Yoda
in the Dagobah swamps, for instance. For extended discussion
of hermits, see the entry for hermit
in The New Catholic Encyclopedia.
(also called erotesis): Asking a rhetorical
question to the reader, i.e., "What should honest citizens
do?" Often the question is asked in order to get a definite
answer from the reader--usually, "no," as J. A.
Cuddon suggests. The erotema often implies an answer,
but usually does not provide one explicitly. Examples include
Laertes' rant about Ophelia's madness, when he asks, "Do
you see this, O God?" (Hamlet 4.5). American politicians
still make use of this technique in debate, as evidenced by
Senator Edward Kennedy's arguments before the senate concerning
the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968:
can the poor feel they have a stake in a system which says
that the rich may have due process but the poor may not?
How can the uneducated have faith in a system which says
that it will take advantage of them in every possible way?
How can people have hope when we tell them that they have
no recourse if they run afoul of the state justice system?
Another term for erotema. See erotema,
(singular: erratum): Errors or mistakes in a printed
text. See discussion under erratum,
(plural: errata): An error in a printed text that comes
about from transposed letters, missing lines of text, or simple
typesetting errors resulting from a printer or a printer's
apprentice's mistake while assembling the text on the press.
In Ben Franklin's Autobiography, he refers to the various
mistakes in his own life charmingly as "errata,"
and he refers to his own life as a book written by God or
ERSE (from Irish Erische): (1) Another name for Scots Gaelic, particularly the name popularly used in 16th-19th centuries to refer to the Highland dialects of Scots Gaelic, or (2) an alternative name for any Goidelic language--especially Irish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic.
LITERATURE: Not to be confused with escapist
literature, escape literature (also called literature
of escape) includes books and short stories about
desperate protagonists escaping from confinement--especially
from prisoner-of-war camps during the First and Second World
Wars. These books and stories are usually designed to be suspenseful
and focus on the psychological effects of imprisonment. Examples
include H. G. Durnford's The Tunnellers of Holzminden
and Eric Williams' The Wooden Horse. More generally,
any narrative with a significant involvement in escaping from
confinement might be called escape literature, including Stephen
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, or the first
part of Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.
The desire to retreat into imaginative entertainment rather
than deal with the stress, tedium, and daily problems of the
mundane world. See discussion under
LITERATURE: Not to be confused with escape
literature, escapist literature is designed primarily
for imaginative entertainment rather than readings designed
for provoking thought or addressing serious social issues.
The term is derogatory in connotation, though one might argue
such writing serves a psychological purpose by offering a
relief from the stresses or tedium of mundane life. Arguably,
the vast bulk of popular reading is escapist in nature. Sir
Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy famously describes
the appeal of such escapist work: "He
cometh unto you with a tale which holdeth children from play
and old men from the chimney-corner."
See also wish
NARRATIVE: Eschatalogy in Christian theology is
the study of the end of things, including the end of the world,
life-after-death, and the Last Judgment. An eschatalogical
narrative refers to a story dealing with these matters, a
story which explains what the ultimate ending or conclusion
of something. The term should not be confused with scatological
narratives. Contrast with etiological
The branch of religious philosophy or theology focusing on
the end of time, the afterlife, and the Last Judgment. See
discussion under eschatological
See discussion under feudalism.
SATIRE: A medieval
genre common among French poets
in which the speaker lists various occupations among the three
estates of feudalism
(nobles, peasants, and clergy) and depicts them in a manner
that shows how short they fall from the ideal of that occupation.
In the late medieval period, the genre expanded to
discuss the failings of bourgeois
individuals as well. The genre was not unknown in
England. John Gower's Vox Clamantis and Confessio
Amantis have passages similar to those in continental
estates satire. Jill Mann suggests in her famous book, Chaucer
and Medieval Estates Satire, that the General Prologue
of The Canterbury Tales is itself an example of this
genre. See also satire
estates. The genre is also called medieval
ETH (also spelled edh): A letter in the Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic alphabet. As a capital letter, it is written as a capital "D" with a horizontal line across the left edge of the D, often called a "crossed D." As a lower-case letter, it is written as a curving lower-case d with a horizontal line midway across the vertical stroke. Below is a visual example of the capital and lower-case eth:
The letter eth represented the interdental fricative sound found in words like then, and it contrasts with the letter thorn, which represents the sound found in words like thin. In modern English, we use the digraph <th> to represent both sounds.
DIALECT: A dialect used
by a racial or national group, as opposed to a caste
dialect or regional
NARRATIVE: Etiology is the branch of philosophy dealing
with the origins of things or how things came to be. An etiological
narrative in folklore, mythology/religion, or literature is
a story that explains how a social custom, geographical feature,
animal, or plant came into existence. For instance, Ovid's
Metamorphosis explains that so many serpents exist
in India because Perseus spilled some Gorgon's blood there,
and where each drop of blood fell, a serpent arose; Ovid also
explains how Mount Olympus came to be so tall--giants and
titans piled one mountain on top of another in order to reach
the heavens and battle Jupiter. Unusual rock formations in
Wales are often explained in etiological narratives. For instance,
an unusual rock formation might be explained using a story
about King Arthur riding his horse over the rocks, resulting
in the geological formation. Some Scandinavian legends about
trolls and giants are etiological narratives explaining how
a mountain range or a valley came into existence. For instance,
an ice-giant damned a river to create a lake, or a troll dug
up a valley to create a moutain pass. Often toponyms
legends contain etiological functions. Contrast with eschatological
See discussion under etiological
spelling to reflect or match how a word's etymon
was spelled, or the actual word so altered. For instance,
the words debt and doubt
gained their silent <b>
letters in the Renaissance when revisionists/reactionaries
wanted to "correct" the Middle English spellings
(det and dout)
to match the Latin roots, debitum
and dubitare (Algeo
(1) The origin of a word. (2) The
study of word origins and the history of words--especially
how words can be traced back to a root, i.e., an earlier source
word. See etymon.
Contrast with folk
(plural, etyma): An older word that
is a source for a newer one. See etymology.
EUCATASTROPHE (Grk. eu+catastrophe, "happy
or fortunate ending"): As Christopher Garbowski describes
in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, Tolkien coined this
term in his Andrew Lang Lecture entitled "On Fairy-stories."
in fantasy literature that evokes a
in readers. Tolkien uses it as an antonym for the catastrophe that
traditionally ends a tragedy.
Using a mild or gentle phrase instead of a blunt, embarrassing,
or painful one. For instance, saying "Grandfather has
gone to a better place" is a euphemism for "Grandfather
has died." The idea is to put something bad, disturbing,
or embarrassing in an inoffensive or neutral light. Frequently,
words referring directly to death, unpopular politics, blasphemy,
crime, and sexual or excremental activities are replaced by
Examples from medieval
French include the euphemism "a wound in the thigh"
to describe a wound to a knight's genitals. Examples from
the Elizabethan period include the exclamation zounds!
as a euphemism for the curse, "God's wounds!" Similarly,
we now use euphemisms such as "Gosh darn!" instead
of "God damn!" or "Gee whiz!" instead
of "Jesus!" For an extraordinarily thorough
list of sexual euphemisms in Shakespeare's plays, see
Shakespeare's Bawdy (1960). Note that euphemism
should not be confused with euphuism,
(from Greek "good sound"): Attempting to group words
together harmoniously, so that the consonants permit an easy
and pleasing flow of sound when spoken, as opposed to cacophony,
when the poet intentionally mixes jarring or harsh sounds
together in groups that make the phrasing either difficult
to speak aloud or grating to the ear. Here is an example of
euphony from John Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes (1820):
lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferred
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one
silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.
Not to be confused with euphemism,
above, euphuism is a highly ornate style of writing popularized
by John Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578).
The style is sententious, relies heavily on balanced syntax,
makes frequent use of antithesis,
and learned allusions.
A sample passage illustrating this style appears in Philautus's
speech in Lyly's work:
see now that as the fish Scholopidus in the flood
Araris at the waxing of the Moon is as white as the driven
snow, and at the waning as black as the burnt coal, so Euphues,
which at the first encreasing of our familiarity, was very
zealous, is now at the last cast become most faithless.
"well varied"): In classical literature, any varied
metrical form such as a tetrameter with mixed choriambic
feet (Cuddon 314).
Adding numbers to the various points in an argument or
debate so the
audience can better follow the rhetor's thinking.
RHYME: Exact rhyme or perfect rhyme is rhyming two
words in which both the consonant sounds and vowel sounds
to create a rhyme. The term "exact" is sometimes
used more specifically to refer to two homophones that
spelled dissimilarly but pronounced identically at the
end of lines. Since poetry is traditionally spoken aloud,
effect of rhyme depends upon sound rather than spelling,
even words that are spelled dissimilarly can rhyme. Examples
this sort of exact rhyme include the words pain/pane,
However, it is equally common
to use the term exact rhyme in reference to any close
rhyme such as line/mine,
dig/pig, and so on. Contrast exact rhyme with
rhymes or imperfect rhymes. The last two of
these three contrasting terms include subtypes such as half
rhyme, near rhyme, or slant rhyme. Exact
rhyme is also referred to as perfect rhyme, full
rhyme, or true rhyme.
(1) A detailed analysis of a particular point or argument--epecially
added as an appendix at the back of a book. (2) A scholarly
digression or an additional discussion.
(1) In Roman times, the term exegesis applied
to professional government interpretation of omens, dreams,
laws, as Cuddon notes (315). (2) In post-Roman times, more
commonly exegesis is scholarly or theological interpretation
discussion under fourfold
Another term for Robertsonian criticism of medieval literature. See
discussion under fourfold
(plural: exempla): The term exemplum
can be used in two general ways.
In medieval literature, an exemplum is a short narrative
or reference that serves to teach by way of example--especially
a short story embedded in a longer sermon. An exemplum
teaches by providing an exemplar, a model of behavior
that the reader should imitate, or by providing an
example of bad behavior that the reader should avoid. In
medieval argumentation, a writer might use biblical stories
and historical allusions as exempla. Often an entire
medieval argument might consist of two individuals asserting
exempla to prove their arguments, and the one who
comes up with the most exempla is the default winner.
We see samples of this type of debate in "The Wife
of Bath's Prologue," in which Jankin provides long
lists of wicked women to put the Wife in her place, and
in "The Nun's Priest's Tale," in which Chauntecleer
proves that dreams have significance by asserting a long
list of cases in which oneiromantic visions predicted the
In classical rhetoric, an exemplum is simply any
example that serves to prove a point whether the example
is couched in story-form or not. In this sense, exempla
work in a variety of persuasive ways in addition to providing
a model of behavior. They can, like medieval exempla,
provide a model for a reader to imitate, they can demonstrate
the reality of a problem, they can serve a pedagogical function
by providing illustrative examples or they can demonstrate
subtle differences in categorization, and so on, and so
"Exile-literature"): German literature written by authors
who fled Nazi Germany during World War II. Authors who
are part of the Exilliteratur movement
include Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann
A twentieth-century philosophy arguing that ethical human
beings are in a sense cursed with absolute free will in a
purposeless universe. Therefore, individuals must fashion
their own sense of meaning in life instead of relying thoughtlessly
on religious, political, and social conventions. These merely
provide a façade of meaning according to existential
philosophy. Those who rely on such conventions without thinking
through them deny their own ethical responsibilities. The
basic principles of existentialism are (1)
a concern with man's essential being and nature, (2)
an idea that existential "angst" or "anguish"
is the common lot of all thinking humans who see the essential
meaninglessness of transitory human life, (3)
the belief that thought and logic are insufficient to cope
with existence, and (4) the conviction that
a true sense of morality can only come from honestly facing
the dilemma of existential freedom and participating in life
actively and positively. The ethical idea is that, if the
universe is essentially meaningless, and human existence does
not matter in the long run, then the only thing that can provide
a moral backdrop is humanity itself, and neglecting to build and encourage such morality is neglecting our duty to ourselves and to each other.
The major existential
philosophers include the Danish theologian Kierkegaard, Martin
Heidegger, and Hans Georg Gadamer. The major existential literary
figures include Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de
Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, and Franz Kafka. While the movement
is largely atheistic, a profound branch of Christian existentialism
has emerged in writers such as Jacques Maritain, Paul Tillich,
and Gabriel Marcel.
/ EXUENT: Common Latin stage
directions found in the margins of Shakespearean
plays. Exit is the singular for "He [or she]
goes out." Exuent is the plural form for multiple individuals.
Often the phrase is accompanied with explanatory remarks,
such as Exuent omnes ("Everybody goes out"),
or Exit solus ("He alone goes out").
(Greek "leaving," cf. Latin exodus): The
last piece of a Greek tragedy,
an episode occurring after the last choral ode and
ended by the ceremonial exit of all the actors.
In classical rhetoric, this is the introductory part of a
(also called a plosive or a stop):
In linguistics, a sound made by completely blocking and then
quickly unblocking the flow of air.
EXPOSÉ (French past part., "revealed"): A journalistic or literary revelation or exposure--especially of something discreditable or scandalous. Examples of non-fiction exposés include All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, which revealed Nixon's involvement with the Watergate scandal, and Edwin Markham's Children in Bondage, which exposed the evils of child labor. Fictional narratives can also reveal real-world scandals, such as Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle, which exposed consumers to the exploitation of meat-packing workers, and the poetry of William Wordsworth and William Blake which also acted in many ways as exposes of child labor practices in London.
The use of authorial discussion to explain or summarize
material rather than revealing this
information through gradual narrative detail. Often, this
technique is considered unartful, especially when creative
contrast showing (revelation through details)
and telling (exposition). For example, a writer
might use exposition
by writing, "Susan
was angry when she left the house
and climbed into her car outside." That sentence is telling the reader
about Susan, i.e., using exposition. In contrast, the
change this to the following version. "Red-faced
with nostrils flaring, Susan slammed the door and stomped
over to her
Now, the writer is showing Susan's anger, rather than using
exposition to tell the audience she's angry.
MEANING: Meaning that originates not in the text being
read, but in another related text. The most common type of
extra-textual meaning is an allusion,
in which an author briefly refers to a character, event, place,
or object from the Bible, mythology, history, or another literary
work. Since the author does not necessarily explain this allusion,
it is up to the reader to recognize the reference and supply
the significance from the outside text. Contrast with intra-textual
DIALECT: A type of metaplasmus
using unconventional spellings to represent conventional pronunciation:
for instance, "He shud
of left sooner"
instead of "He should
have left sooner."
RHYME: Rhyming words that
seem to rhyme when written down as text because parts of them
are spelled identically, but which are pronounced differently
from each other in modern English. Examples include forth/worth,
come/home, bury/fury, stove/shove,
There are two common origins for eye rhyme. (1) The
first origin is in the Great
Vowel Shift. The pronunciation of certain words
has varied from century to century, and in the 1400s, English
underwent radical changes in the pronunciation of vowels.
Similar (though less dramatic) changes have been creeping
through pronunciation in later centuries as well. For instance,
in the sixteenth century, the words Rome/loom
were pronounced similarly enough to create a rhyme. In older
literature, what appear to be eye-rhymes to modern readers
may simply be full rhymes in the original speaker's dialect.
(2) A second cause brings about eye rhymes in later
centuries. In these later times, as literacy grew increasingly
common, and poetry was more frequently experienced visually
on the page rather than aloud as an oral performance, eye
rhymes became a popular technique amongst literate poets--a
way of displaying one's familiarity with the written word.
Thus, in the late seventeenth-century, we find poets like
Andrew Marvell writing the following verse:
beauty shall no more be found,
Nor in thy marble vault shall sound
My echoing love song. Then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity. . . .
We see a similar example in Alexander
Essay on Man:
doing, suffering, checked, impelled; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity?
examples today of exact
rhyme, while the rhymes try/virginity
(in Marvell) and why/deity (in
Pope) are eye rhymes. Contrast with exact
rhyme, above and slant
TOP OF THIS PAGE
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
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