Terms and Definitions: H
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.
(Greek, "sacred writing"; also called hagiology):
The writing or general study of the lives of Christian saints,
either in liturgy or in literature. A single story dealing with
the life of a saint is called a vita (plural vitae)
or a saint's life. Notable examples of literary vitae
include Eusebius of Caesarea's record of Palestinian martyrs
(4th century CE), Theodoret's account of Syrian monks (5th century
CE); Gregory the Great's accounts of the Italian monks (6th
century), the Byzantine Menology or Byzantine Calendar incorporating
short saints' lives, the Chronicle of Nestor (c. 1113 CE),
and The Golden Legend of Jacobus of Voragine (13th century
CE). A calendar that incorporates brief saints' lives is called
a menology or a martyrology,
and these have been compiled by Heironymian (5th century CE),
the Venerable Bede (8th century CE), and Adon and Usuard (9th
century CE). Among Protestants, John Foxe's Actes and Monuments
(alias The Book of Martyrs), published in 1559, contains
both a history of the Christian Church and detailed accounts
of martyrs, especially the Protestant victims killed during
the reign of Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary"). See vita.
Another term for haikai renga or renku.
See discussion under renku
RENGA: Another term for renku.
See discussion under renku
(plural: haiku, from archaic Japanese): The term haiku
is a fairly late addition to Japanese poetry. The poet Shiki
coined the term in the nineteenth century from a longer, more
traditional phrase, haikai renga no hokku ("the
introductory lines of light linked verse"). To understand
the haiku's history as a genre,
peruse the vocabulary entries for its predecessors, the hokku
and the haikai renga or renku.
The haiku follows
traditional Japanese haiku consists of three lines.
The first line contains five syllables, the second line contains
seven, and the last line five. In Japanese, the syllables
are further restricted in that each syllable must have three
sound units (sound-components formed of a consonant, a vowel,
and another consonant). The three unit-rule is usually ignored
in English haiku, since English syllables vary in size
much more than in Japanese. Furthermore, in English translation,
this 5/7/5 syllable count is occasionally modified to three
lines containing 6/7/6 syllables respectively, since English
is not as "compact" as Japanese.
The traditional subject-matter is a Zen description of a location,
natural phenomona, wildlife, or a common everyday occurrence.
Insects and seasonal activities are particularly popular topics.
If the subject-matter is something besides a scene from nature,
or if it employs puns, elaborate symbols, or other forms of
"cleverness," the poem is technically a senryu
rather than a haiku. The point was that the imagery
presents a "Zen snapshot" of the universe, setting
aside logic and thought for a flash of intuitive insight.
The haiku seeks to capture the qualities of experiencing
the natural world uncluttered by "ideas." Often
editors will talk about "the haiku moment"--that
split second when we first experience something but before
we begin to think about it. (In many ways, this idea might
be contrasted usefully with the lyric
moment in the English tradition of poetry; see
haiku is always set during a particular season or month
as indicated by a kigo,
or traditional season-word. This brief (and often subtle)
reference to a season or an object or activity associated
with that time of year establishes the predominant mood of
It is striking a feature of the haiku that direct discussion
of the poem's implications is forbidden, and symbolism
or wordplay discouraged in a manner alien to Western poetry.
The poet describes her subject in an unusual manner without
making explicit commentary or explicit moral judgment. To
convey such ideas, the genre often relies upon allusions
to earlier haiku or implies a comparison between the
natural setting and something else. Simplicity is more valued
than "cleverness." Again, if the poet is being clever,
using puns or symbols, the poem again is technically a senryu
rather than a haiku.
poet often presents the material under a nom
de plume rather than using her own name--especially
in older haiku.
the haiku traditionally employ "the technique
of cutting"--i.e., a division in thought between the
earlier and later portions of the poem. (It is comparable
to the volta
of a sonnet).
These two divisions must be able to stand independently from
the other section, but each one must also enrich the reader's
understanding of the other section. In English translation,
this division is often indicated through punctuation marks
such as a dash, colon, semicolon, or ellipsis.
Here is an example of
a haiku by a Western writer, James Kirkup:
the amber dusk
Each island dreams its own night--
The sea swarms with gold.
The following poem serves
as an example very loosely translated from Japanese:
Keshiki wa miezu
Semi no koe
[O cricket, from your cheery cry
No one could ever guess
How quickly you must die.]
This example illustrates the haiku's
lack of authorial commentary or explanation--the desire
merely to present the experience of nature:
The rains of May
The swift Mogami River.]
Many Japanese poets have
used the form, the two acknowledged masters being Bashó
de plume for Matsuo Munefusa, 1644-94); and
Kobayashi Issa (a nom
de plume for Kobayashi Nobuyuki). The Imagist
Movement in 20th century English literature has been
profoundly influenced by haiku. The list of poets who
attempted the haiku or admired the genre includes Ezra
Pound, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Conrad Aiken, and W. B. Yeats.
Contrast haiku with the
and the senryu.
See also hokku,
below, and haikai,
above. See also kigo
You can click here to download a PDF handout
summarizing this discussion of haiku, or you can
click here to download PDF samples
HAIR-SHIRT: A garment made of a linen chemise with animal skin (usually goat skin) on the hidden, inner side of the material. The hair-shirt was fashioned so the hairy side of the skin faced inward, rubbing against the body, rather than outward. Typically, the goat-hair would be cut short--at stubble-length--so that it would be rough and scrape like sandpaper against the human flesh against it. Wearing a hairshirt as an act of penitence was one way a medieval sinner could "mortify the flesh," i.e., punish the human body for corporeal sins like lust or gluttony and reassert the dominance of the will or intellect above that of the fleshly shell. In the Book of Margery Kempe, Kempe describes wearing a hair-shirt to mortify her flesh. On the death of Saint Thomas Becket, it was said that he had worn the same hair shirt and breeches of the same material until his martyrdom, when "it [the hair-shirt] swarmed with vermin" as fleas and lice fled from his dying body. Thomas More, the author of Utopia, wore a hair-shirt on special occasions and on Fridays--also the days he practiced flagellation.
From the 1500s, it became common to replace the goat's hair with fine pointed wire, the sharp points turned inward to cut the flesh and cause bleeding. Similar ascetic practices include fasting as a spiritual exercise, wearing a cilice, nettle-bathes, or flagellation (self-whipping), all of which embody the exercise of the will over the discomfort of the body. Most Protestant sects did away with the custom, pointing to Colossians 2:23's admonition against "a severe treatment of the body" (though many modern Evangelical Protestants may still practice fasting as a spiritual exercise). However, these practices have been part of the Christian tradition for well over 1,200 years--far longer than the time without them.
SIDE: The side of a sheet or parchment
that once carried the animal's hair. It is generally darker
and smoother than the flesh side, and it may carry markings
such as pores or traces of hair follicles that have not been
fully rubbed away during the manufacture of the manuscript.
rhyme. Contrast with family rhyme.
HALLEL (Hebrew, "celebrate," possibly
adopted as a loanword from
Eblaite): A hymn of
praise, specifically in Psalms 113-18, each of which is headed
with the plural imperative verb, Hallelujah. The hallel was
to be sung at the four main Jewish festivals: Passover, Pentecost,
Dedication, and Tabernacles.
written in stanzas with each stanza containing six iambic
lines, four trimeter lines, and two tetrameter lines--commonly
appearing in English hymns.
A term from Greek tragedy that literally means "missing the
mark." Originally applied to an archer who misses the target,
a hamartia came to signify a tragic flaw, especially
a misperception, a lack of some important insight, or some blindness
that ironically results from one's own strengths and abilities.
In Greek tragedy, the protagonist
frequently possesses some sort of hamartia that causes
catastrophic results after he fails to recognize some fact or
truth that could have saved him if he recognized it earlier.
The idea of hamartia is often ironic; it frequently implies
the very trait that makes the individual noteworthy is what
ultimately causes the protagonist's decline into disaster. For
instance, for the character of Macbeth, the same ambition that
makes him so admired is the trait that also allows Lady Macbeth
to lure him to murder and treason. Similarly, what ennobles
Brutus is his unstinting love of the Roman Republic, but this
same patriotism causes him to kill his best friend, Julius Caesar.
These normally positive traits of self-motivation and patriotism
caused the two protagonists to "miss the mark" and realize too
late the ethical and spiritual consequences of their actions.
See also hubris.
LEGOMENON (plural: hapax legomena):
Any word of indeterminate meaning appearing only
the surviving textual records of an ancient language. The word's
rarity makes it difficult for modern scholars to figure
by context. Several words in Anglo-Saxon poetry and in the
Bible, for example, are hapax legomena. In
fact, somewhere between 1501 and 2400 words in the Bible
fall into this category, depending upon how strictly
we define the term, as Frederick Greenspahn notes in Hapax
Legomena in the Hebrew Bible (Ann Arbor, MI): 22-41.
The Book of Hosea alone has nine such untranslatable
in the space of 263 lines as Greenspahn points out in
an article from Volume 30 of Vetus Testamentum (17).
RENAISSANCE: A dynamic period of writing, poetry, music,
and art among black Americans during the 1920s and 1930s including
figures such as Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Sterling
Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Jessie Fauset, and Langston Hughes.
These decades were marked by the post-World War I return
of servicemen and the mass migration of black citizens to the
urban North as African-Americans sought to flee the legal segregation
in effect in America's South. The period is sometimes
called "the Jazz Age" because of the parallel growth
of jazz and soul music at the same time among black musical
artists. See also multiculturalism.
HAT: Another term for an editor's caret.
See discussion under link.
RHYME: Another term for alliteration--especially alliteration
of consonants at the beginning of words, rather than alliteration
of internal consonants within the bodies of words. The name
is something of a misnomer, since "head rhymes" usually
involve no rhyme at all! See discussion under alliteration.
Sometimes used synonymously with "the
above," the term refers more specifically
to the canopy over the stage in open-air theaters to protect
actors and their costumes from the elements. Greenblatt notes
that the "heavens" in the Globe theater would be "brightly
decorated with sun, moon, and stars, and perhaps the signs of
the Zodiac" (1140).
RHYME: Another term for a masculine ending in a rhyme.
In linguistics, the branch of Indo-European
including classical and modern Greek.
MOUTH: Students should distinguish between the medieval
and Renaissance meanings of hell mouth. (1)
In medieval art, the hell mouth was a stylized painting in which
the entry to hell resembles a gaping demon's mouth. In medieval
manuscripts, the image first appeared in connection with St.
John's Book of Revelation and in texts dealing with the Last
Judgment. Eventually, when medieval theater developed, it was
common to paint the entry onto a stage so the entry would resemble
a gaping demon's mouth. This "hell mouth" would either
be located on one side of the stage or it would be a trap-door
in the floor. During morality
plays and mystery
plays, actors playing demons would enter through the
hell mouth in order to dramatically grab sinners and drag them
off to hell. (2) By the time of the Renaissance,
the term hell mouth was used to refer to any trap-door
in the bottom of the stage. At Shakespeare's Globe Theatre,
for instance, the cellerage,
or the entire area under the stage was referred to as "hell,"
and the area above the stage, where musicians played, was often
referred to as "the heavens." This leads to some interesting
implications given that Hamlet's ghostly visitor speaks
to the protagonist from this area. The diabolical connotations
suggest the spirit might actually be a demon rather than Hamlet's
CODE: Hemingway's protagonists are usually "Hemingway
Code Heroes," i.e., figures who try to follow a hyper-masculine
moral code and make sense of the world through those beliefs.
Hemingway himself defined the Code Hero as "a man who lives
correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage and endurance
in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always
painful." This code typically involves several traits
for the Code Hero:
(1) Measuring himself
against the difficulties life throws in his way, realizing
that we will all lose ultimately because we are mortals, but
playing the game honestly and passionately in spite of that
(2) Facing death with
dignity, enduring physical and emotional pain in silence
(3) Never showing emotions
(4) Maintaining free-will
and individualism, never weakly allowing commitment to a single
woman or social convention to prevent adventure, travel, and
acts of bravery
(5) Being completely honest,
keeping one's word or promise
(6) Being courageous and
brave, daring to travel and have "beautiful adventures,"
as Hemingway would phrase it
(7) Admitting the truth
of Nada (Spanish, "nothing"), i.e., that
no external source outside of oneself can provide meaning
or purpose. This existential
awareness also involves facing death without
hope of an afterlife, which the Hemingway Code Hero considers
more brave than "cowering" behind false religious
The Hemingway Code Hero
typically has some sort of physical or psychological wound symbolizing
his tragic flaw or the weaknesses of his character, which must
be overcome before he can prove his manhood (or re-prove it,
since the struggle to be honest and brave is a continual one).
Also, many Hemingway Code Heroes suffer from a fear of the dark,
which represents the transience or meaninglessness of life in
the face of eventual and permanent death. Cf. Northern Courage.
CODE HERO: See discussion under Hemingway
As Arthur Quinn defines the term in Figures of Speech,
hendiadys is a peculiar type of polysyndeton
involving "the combination of addition, substitution, and
usually arrangement; the addition of a conjunction between a
word (noun, adjective, verb) and its modifier (adjective, adverb,
infinitive), the substitution of this word's grammatical form
for that of its modifier, and usually rearrangement so that
the modifier follows the word" (Quinn 102). This process
sounds complicated, but it is a very simple way of artificially
splitting a single idea into multiple subdivisions by sticking
the word and in an unusual spot in a sentence. Some
examples will help in understanding. For instance, medieval
chroniclers might write "by length
of time and siege" instead of writing "by
a long siege." Instead of talking about "the
furious sound" of an idiot's impassioned speech signifying
nothing, Macbeth might talk about its "sound
and fury." Quinn suggests that if Christ meant to
say, "I am the true and living way," Christ might
spruce the phrase up by saying "I
am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." In Genesis,
when God announces to Eve that he will "greatly
multiply thy sorrow and thy conception," the King
James translators are using hendiadys to refer to a single thing--the
pain of childbirth--as a list of two items. Instead of simply
saying God has a powerful and glorious kingdom, Matthew states,
"For thine is the kingdom, and the
power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" (Matt. 6:13).
In Hamlet, we read how one character states, "But
in the gross and scope of my opinion, / This bodes some strange
eruption to our state" (Hamlet 1.1.68).
We would expect to read something like, "in the scope of
my gross opinion" in normal speech of the day. Likewise,
Cymbeline mentions "The
heaviness and the guilt within my bosom" when we
would expect to hear of "the heavy guilt within my bosom"
(Cym.5.2.1). For these and other examples, see also
Quinn 16-17 and 25.
MANUSCRIPT (pronounced "HENG-urt"):
One of the most important manuscripts of Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales, along with the Ellesmere text. The
official designation of this book is Peniarth MS 392 D, but
it is known familiarly as "the Hengwrt" in scholarly
circles. The Hengwrt dates to the early fifteenth-century, shortly
after Chaucer's death, and the paleographic evidence suggests
that it was copied by the same scribe who copied the Ellesmere.
The manuscript is currently located in the National Library
of Wales. See Ellesmere
Click here for a
pdf handout discussing the various orders of Chaucer's tales
as found in various manuscripts.
The exclusive worship of one god without denying the existence of
gods or spiritual powers, as opposed to monotheism (the
belief in and worship of one god), dualism (the
belief that one good and one evil deity of equal power exists,
with one associated with the spiritual world and the other
associated with the material world), or polytheism (the
belief in and worship of multiple gods).
A line consisting of seven metrical feet. Also called septenary.
The seven territories or kingdoms making up Anglo-Saxon England--Northumbria,
Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex.
See discussion under
The study of coats-of-arms and aristocratic insignia, or the
creation of such items according to medieval custom. In late
medieval times, court officers called heralds
were responsible for announcing, judging, and organizing combat
at tournaments; introducing aristocratic visitors at court;
maintaining genealogical records; and verifying or recording
the identity of knights during a variety of military and social
occasions. This process began in the twelth century and developed
into an elaborate art by the time of the Renaissance.
(from Greek, "choice"): A "mistaken" or
heterodox religious belief, i.e., one that does not agree with
traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic church. In Middle
English writings, heresy is associated with the Lollards.
Click here for more information.
Note that by Western medieval Christian standards for what constitutes
heresy and orthodoxy, all modern Protestant churches are by
definition heretical for deviation from the Petrine
doctrine, for antinominism, and frequently for
heresies concerning transubstantiation.
(Anglo-Saxon here + geatwe, "army-gear"):
Heriot has two different meanings, depending upon whether we
speak of the early Anglo-Saxon period or the later part of the
medieval period. (1) In its earliest sense,
heriot was the gift of arms and armor an Anglo-Saxon chieftain
or hlaford would give to his thegns, warriors
who vowed to serve him, to fight for him, and to avenge
their master's death. Upon the thegn's death, the heriot
would return to the hlaford. This gift of weaponry
was a essential part of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture.
(2) In later historical periods, when the custom of
direct military service became less vital, heriot degenerated
into a tribute or service given to a lord on the death of his
tenant, in which the eldest son of the tenant would provide
the service much like the eldest son of the ancient thegn
might return the arms and armor to the chieftain who originally
gave it to the thegn.
Beyond the heriot the lord provided initially at the time of a thegn's vows, a lord might later give physical objects as rewards to his thegns who served him well. The most traditional of these would be rings--hence the common kenning for a generous lord would be béag-giefa or hring-giefa (ring-giver). It is possible [or at least Dr. Wheeler would argue!] that this custom of ring-giving influenced Tolkien's choice of the ring motif in The Lord of the Rings, where Sauron passes lesser magical rings to three elves, seven dwarves, and nine men. The gift is actually a magical trap. Upon accepting the rings, many grow corrupted by magical power, ultimately turning into nazgúl or ringwraiths. See Anglo-Saxon, thegn,
herma or hermai):
In Greco-Roman archeology, a herm is a stone, bronze,
or terracotta marker--originally placed at cross-roads or
at estate and territorial boundaries, though in
homeowners would erect herma outside
the entrances of their houses for good luck. These
carvings consisted of a bearded human head (i.e., of the
god Hermes or Mercury)
a rectangular or square stone column (typically between
one and two meters
arms or legs but a prominent phallus carved to protrude
about halfway up the column. Scholars like Walter Burkert
have interpreted the original herma as apotropaic wards
rather than as fertility or luck symbols, but by classical
times, it was common for homeowners to place wreathes on
the herm's phallus during celebrations. Before
taking long journeys, wayfarers would annoint and rub the herm's
phallus with olive oil as a libation to Hermes, the god of
travel. In historical literature, we have accounts (such
as that about Alcibiades) suggesting that vandalism of a
herm was considered one of the most impious acts
imaginable among classical pagans.
AGE OF GREECE: Also known as
the Homeric Age, this is the period of time between 1200-800
BCE. The term is normally used as a contrast with the Golden
Age of Greece--the fifth century BCE when Athens
was at its height of power.
COUPLET: Two successive rhyming lines of iambic pentameter.
The second line is usually end-stopped. It was common practice
to string long sequences of heroic couplets together in a pattern
of aa, bb,
(and so on). Because this practice was especially popular in
the Neoclassic Period between 1660 and 1790, the heroic couplet
is often called the neoclassic couplet if the poem originates
during this time period. Note that "heroic" in this
case has nothing to do with subject-matter. By all means, do
not follow in the footsteps of one confused student who mistakenly
listed Romeo and Juliet as an example of a "heroic couplet."
HEROIC CROWN: See discussion under Crown of Sonnets.
A humorous poem taking the conventions of heroic Greek literature
and using them to comic effect. Most mock epics are heroicomical
in nature, such as Pope's Rape of the Lock, which abounds
in parodic imagery and spoofed situations based on The Iliad,
The Aeneid, and Paradise Lost. See mock
A line consisting of six metrical feet.
Very common in Greek and Latin literature, less common in English.
COMEDY: Elegant comedies characterized by witty banter and
sophisticated dialogue rather than the slapstick physicality
and blundering common to low
GERMAN SHIFT: Also called the Second Sound Shift or
the High German Sound Shift, this term describes the systematic
change of certain stop sounds in High German dialects. You can
see it by contrasting High German (which went through the shift)
with other Germanic languages like English (which did not
go through the Second Sound shift):
from English to High German
or ff after
High German Pfeffer
English open, High
or ss after
High German Zunge
English water; High
English eat, High
High German brechen
High German tanzen
VOWEL: Any vowel sound made with the jaw almost shut
and the tongue elevated near the roof of the oral cavity.
An unusual use of his,
her, and their
as the sign of the genitive by attaching them to the end of
a word or locating them immediately after a word. Algeo notes
this became common primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries--though some rare examples appear as early as King
Alfred's ninth-century translation of Orosius and Aelfric's
tenth-century translation of the Old Testament, where we find
"We gesawon Enac his cynryn" [We saw Anak's kindred]
(see Algeo 179). For instance, one gloss to Spenser's Shepherd's
Calendar of 1579 uses the phrase "Augustus his daughter"
when modern speakers would write "Augustus's daughter."
The use of this possessive pronoun after a noun might have arisen
from the mistaken belief that the -'s
ending in possessive words was an abbreviated form of the
pronoun his. In actual
fact, the -'s ending is
a remnant of an ancient genitive marker (-es)
that attached to certain Anglo-Saxon words to show possession.
(plural: historiae): This Latin word
gives us the modern word history, but the connection
between the two terms is tenuous. Most modern readers think
of a history or a historical treatise as a scholar's
attempt at creating a factual or scholarly narrative of events
from humanity's past. Some ancient texts do fit this model to
a certain extent, such as certain biographies
(Plutarch's Lives) or Sallust's The Jugurthine
War. Other classical works have a veneer of factuality,
but may disguise deliberate propaganda
or accidental (but distorting) authorial assumptions, such as
Julius Caesar's The Conquest of Gaul or the Venerable
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
However, in ancient times, the word historia meant
roughly the same thing as the modern English word "story"
(i.e., any narrative whether factual or fictional). Latin writers,
especially in medieval times, might on occasion use the word
historia refer to history, to legends,
hearsay, gossip, and rumors. The term has no necessary connection
with factuality, and this often confuses those students (and
sometimes even amateur scholars!) working with medieval or Arthurian
material, since many of the Arthurian works such as Geoffrey
of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain are technically
historiae rather than histories in our sense of the
word. See also annals
and contrast with historical
INITIAL: In the artwork of medieval manuscripts, a historiated
initial is an enlarged, introductory letter in a written word
that contains within the body of the letter a pictoral scene
or figure related to the text it introduces. This might be a
portrait of the author who wrote the tale, or a scene from the
story. Contrast with decorated
initial and inhabited
DICTIONARY: A dictionary that traces the changes in
a word's meaning by listing its entries chronologically and
providing quotations using the word in that particular sense
as illustrative examples. The
Oxford English Dictionary is an enormous,
NOVEL: A novel in which fictional characters take part
in, influence, or witness real historical events and interact
with historical figures from the past. Examples include Sir
Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, Lloyd C. Douglas's The
Robe, and James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans.
Contrast with a historical
ROMANCE: See discussion
(Anglo-Saxon hlaf+dieg, "loaf-kneader"
or "loaf-deliverer"): An Anglo-Saxon wife of a warlord.
The term eventually becomes modern English lady. In
Beowulf, Weoltheow is the hlafdig at Heorot.
Also called a hlaefdieg, hladig, or cwen.
See discussion under hlaford.
(Anglo-Saxon hlaf+ord, "loaf-leader"
or "loaf-giver," or possibly from hlaf-weard,
"loaf-guardian," becomes Mod. English lord):
An Anglo-Saxon warrior chieftain who was served by a number
of loyal warriors called thegns. His wife, called the
hlafdig ("loaf-kneader," becomes, Modern
English lady) or the cwen (becomes modern
English queen), may have been responsible for overseeing
communal provisions. In the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf,
Hrothgar is the hlaford of Heorot, and Weoltheow is
the hlafdig. See hlafig,
In Japanese poetry, the term hokku literally means "starting
verse." A hokku was the first starting link of a much
longer chain of verses known as renga or linked verse.
The hokku was traditionally three lines long, with a
syllable count of 5/7/5 syllables in the three lines (i.e.,
the hokku was identical in structure to the modern haiku,
the independent genre that later developed out of the hokku).
The hokku was always the the most important and best
known part of a renga much in the way that the first
verse and chorus of a popular song are often well-known even
when the other verses are poorly known or ignored. Because the
hokku ultimately evolves into what we today call the
haiku, it is common to the find scholars make a distinction
between "modern haiku" (haiku) and "classical
haiku" (hokku). See renga
for further discussion.
holos + kaustos "completely
burnt"): Holocaust has three
meanings generally. (1) The meaning most
familiar to modern audiences is the
genocidal mass destruction of European Jews in Nazi concentration
camps during World War II. The event was partly ignored by
Europe's disbelieving citizenry, partly obscured by Nazi propaganda,
and partly supported by common citizens, but when the camps
were liberated by Allied forces, the horrors of the Holocaust
had a profound
worlds of theology (especially in the area of theodicy),
philosophy (especially in the area of existentialism),
and literature (see for instance Elie Weisel's Night).
Before the mass killings, Germany had been considered the
most enlightened modern European nation, the fatherland
of Goethe, Hegel, Bach, and Bauhaus, a garden of 19th century
philosophy and culture.
The Holocaust cast this idea of modern ethical and cultural
progress into doubt, leading musician Theodor Adorno to
Ausschwitz noch ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch"
["Writing any more poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric"].
The killings contributed to a widespread sense that Western
civilization as a whole had horribly failed
its 19th and 20th century
enlightened Christianity, and thus it accelerated or retreated into the on-going
trends of modernism and postmodernism.
classical Greek literature, a holocaust was a
sacrifice offered to
Odysseus offers a strip of fatty meat to the gods by throwing
it in the fire after a prayer.
biblical translation from
Greek, the Old Testament includes a Hebrew term that
refers to the irrevocable surrender of plunder or captives
totally destroying them. For example, see Joshua 8:27: "For
Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin
he had destroyed [i.e., ritually sacrificed] all
who lived in Ai." In numerous cases, the
Old Testament narratives depict the Israelites as performing
such ritualized destruction
of captured livestock, enemy soldiers, and sometimes
captured women and children at God's command, and God
often punishes the Israelites when they choose
to keep plunder or spare captives
against God's orders. This Hebrew term for ritualized
destruction becomes translated as
holocaust in Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible.
For this reason, most Jews prefer the Hebrew term shoah (calamity)
to describe the Holocaust, since it lacks repugnant theological
AGE OF GREECE: Another term for the Heroic
Age of Greece.
A sermon, or a short, exhortatory work to be read before a group
of listeners in order to instruct them spiritually or morally.
Examples include Saint Augustine's sermons during the patristic
period of literature. Chaucer himself took two Latin tracts
on penitence, translated them, and turned them into a single
sermon by placing the text in the mouth of the Parson in "The
Parson's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales. In the Renaissance,
the content of English sermons was governed by law after King
Henry VIII, becoming an avenue for monarchist propaganda.
(1) In linguistics, a diacritical
mark used in some eastern European languages like Polish and
Lithuanian. Some modern editors transcribing Middle English
vowels insert a hook under the vowels e
and o to represent their
open forms. (2) In composition and professional
fiction writing, a hook is a snappy, quick-moving opening that
gets the reader's attention early in an essay or short story.
ODE: See discussion under
SATIRE: See discussion under satire.
STORY: A short story, novel, or other work of prose fiction
designed to instill in the reader a sense of fear, disgust,
or horror. The modern and postmodern horror story, as typified
by H. P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite,
and Anne Rice, grows out of the earlier conventions of gothic
literature from the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries.
ACCENT: Another term for spondee. See spondee.
(sometimes spelled Hybris): The Greek term hubris
is difficult to translate directly into English. It is a negative
term implying both arrogant, excessive self-pride or self-confidence,
and also a hamartia
(see above), a lack of some important perception or insight
due to pride in one's abilities. It is the opposite of the Greek
which implies a humble and constant striving for perfection
and self-improvement combined with a realistic awareness that
such perfection cannot be reached. As long as an individual
strives to do and be the best, that individual has arête.
As soon as the individual believes he has actually achieved
arête, however, he or she has lost that exalted
state and fallen into hubris, unable to recognize personal
limitations or the humble need to improve constantly. This leads
to overwhelming pride, and this in turn leads to a downfall.
The familiar nickname for the Science Fiction Achievement
given each year
since 1954 to an outstanding work of science fiction or fantasy
literature. The categories change yearly, but typically the
best novel, best short story, and best dramatic presentation
are fairly constant categories. Occasionally, special Hugo
Awards are given, such as the 1966 award of "Best Science
Fiction Series" given to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.
The term "Hugo" comes from Hugo Gernsback, the
editor of Amazing
Stories in the 1950s. A good way of assessing quality
science fiction is to see what science fiction works have
won both the Hugo award and the Nebula
A Renaissance intellectual and artistic movement triggered by
a "rediscovery" of classical Greek and Roman language,
culture and literature. The term was coined in the sixteenth
century from "studia humanitatis," or what
we would today call the humanities (grammar,
rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy). Humanists
emphasized human culture, reason, learning, art, and education
as a means of improving humanity. They exalted the dignity
man, and emphasized present life as a worthwhile focus for
art, poetry, and literature. This attitude contrasted sharply
with the late medieval emphasis on the sinful, bestial
aspects of humanity, which called for treating the present
as a cesspool of temporary evil that humans must reject through
ascetic practices in preparation for the afterlife.
TOPOS: A common rhetorical
strategy in which an author or speaker feigns ignorance or pretends
to be less clever or less intelligent than he or she really
is. Often donning such a persona allows a writer, poet,
or playwright to create humorous, self-deprecating effects,
or in the case of an argument, may cause the opponent to underestimate
the opposition. One of the first examples of the humility topos
in action includes Socrates and his Socratic
method of argument, in which Socrates pleads his own ignorance
so he can ask particularly difficult questions to those who
disagree with his philosophy, eventually forcing them to make
self-contradictory assertions. It is possible that Chaucer frequently
engaged in the humility topos by depicting himself as
"a servant of the servants of love" in Troilus
and Criseyde, where he claims to be merely a bookish clerk
who knows little of romantic matters. Likewise, Chaucer creates
"Geoffrey the pilgrim," an apparently naive persona
who reports the peccadilloes and wickedness of other people
in The Canterbury Tales pilgrimage company without condemnation
or apparent realization of the wickedness that takes place around
him, in some cases. Chaucer, the historical author writing the text, appears
to be quite aware of these incongruities and ironies, but creating
such a persona for himself achieves humorous or richly
ambiguous effects. A more recent example of the humility topos
is that employed by Ben Franklin, in his Autobiography.
Here, he constantly refers to his own inabilities, his own inadequacies,
and his own limitations in such a charming way that he creates
a congenial rather than scornful response in readers, even as
he discreetly instructs his audience in practical wisdom. See
rhetoric and persona,
as well. For an example of Ben Franklin's use of the humility
topos in a speech to the Continental Congress, click
HUMORS (alias bodily humors):
In ancient Greece, Hippocrates postulated that four bodily humors
or liquids existed in the body corresponding to the four
elements existing in matter. These four liquids
determined a human's health and psychology. An imbalance among
the humors--blood, phlegm, black bile (or tears), and yellow
bile (or choler)--resulted in pain and disease, and good health
resulted through a balance of the four humors. Unhealthy imbalances
might be caused by an unbalanced diet, too much heat or cold,
or even by "putrescence," in which one or more of
these bodily liquids soured and began to rot. Medical theory
held this imbalance could cause both physical ailments and mental
disorders in the victim. Furthermore, the liquids were thought
to be somewhat flammable. The ajust, or "burning"
of gases and vapors coming from humors like blood, caused fevers
in sick people. To cure illness, one of the most common methods
to restore a balance was for a barber to "bleed" excess
blood from a sick person using lances or knives (yes, barbers
once were licensed to perform particular acts of medicine),
or for a doctor to use leeches for the same purpose. If excessive
yellow bile were the problem, an emetic or vomit-inducing agent
would help the patient expel the extra choler from the body.
If the patient were depressed or melancholic, the cure was to
prescribe a laxative to purge black bile from the body. If a
phlegmatic disorder was suspected, the doctor might suggest
applying various irritants to the nose and mouth to induce violent
sneezing, which eliminated the phlegm in a spectacular manner.
Unfortunately, many of the powders and ointments used in the
latter treatments were virulently toxic. Untold thousands of
patients suffering from diseases no more severe than the flu
probably died at the hands of various doctors. The neoclassic
playwright Moliere ridicules this dilemma in his play, L'Amour
Médecin (Love is the Doctor), but earlier
writers like Shakespeare take the theory seriously.
For many centuries the theory
of the bodily humors was held as the basis of medicine; it was
much elaborated upon. After Hippocrates, Galen introduced a
new aspect, that of four basic temperaments reflecting the humors:
the sanguine (buoyant type); the phlegmatic, (sluggish type);
the choleric, (angry and quick-tempered type); and the melancholic
(depressed type). In time, any personality aberration or eccentricity
was referred to as a humor. In literature, a humor character
was a type of flat character (see character)
in whom a single passion predominated; this interpretation was
especially popular in Elizabethan and other Renaissance literature.
Renaissance people took the doctrine of humors seriously as
a basis of medicine and psychology--thus Falstaff is depicted
as being sanguine (having too much blood) while Hamlet is melancholic
(having too much black bile). One of the most extensive treatments
of the subject was Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.
The theory found its strongest advocates among the comedy writers,
notably Ben Jonson and his followers, who used humor characters
to illustrate various modes of behavior. Rudolf Virchow's theory
of cellular pathology superseded the Hippocratic model in the
YEARS' WAR: Click here
for an overview.
A structure on the top of the stage cover in the Globe theater.
Here, stagehands produced special effects such as thunder and
lightning and operated the machinery to let actors dressed as
gods or spirits descend through a trapdoor in the
The hvot is a conventional scene in Icelandic sagas
in which a grieving or insulted woman incites
a man to violent revenge, which usually triggers or perpetuates
a blood-feud. The more general term for this moment in Germanic literature more broadly is an incitement passage.
FORMATION: In linguistics, a new expression
made by combining together two or more words (or two or more
morphemes) whose etyma
come from multiple languages. For instance, the Middle English
word povreliche appears
in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This
adverb is a hybrid formation, with the first half (povre)
coming from the French word for "poor." The suffix
-liche is of Germanic
origin and it equates to modern English suffixes -like
A religious song consisting of one or more repeating rhythmical
In classical Roman literature, hymns to Minerva and Jupiter
survive. The Greek poet Sappho wrote a number of hymns to Aphrodite.
More recently a vast number of hymns appear in Catholic and
Protestant religious lyrics. A particularly vibrant tradition
of hymn-writing comes from the South's African-American population
during the nineteenth century. In the realm of fiction, C.S. Lewis creates hymns for the Solid Ones in The Great Divorce, and Tolkien creates Elvish hymns such as "O Elbereth" in The Lord of the Rings, typically with quatrain structure alternating with couplet stanzas. In the example of "O Elbereth," the hymn honors one of the Maiar spirits. See also paean.
Combining two examples of hyperbaton
when the reversed elements are not grammatically or syntactically
parallel. It is easier to give examples than to explain hypallage.
Virgil writes, "The smell
has brought the well-known breezes"
when we would expect, in terms of proper cause-and-effect, to
have "the breezes bring well-known smells."
In Henry V, Shakespeare writes, "Our
gayness and our gift are besmirched / With rainy marching in
the painful field" (4.3.110),
when logically we would expect "with painful marching in
the rainy field." Roethke playfully states, "Once
upon a tree / I came across a time."
In each example, not just one hyperbaton appears, but two when
the two words switch places with the two spots where we expect
to find them. The result often overlaps with hysteron-proteron,
in that it creates a catachresis.
A generic term for changing the normal or expected order
and other figures of speech. E.g.,"One ad does not a
survey make." The term comes from the Greek for "overstepping"
because one or more words "overstep" their normal
position and appear elsewhere. For instance, Milton in Paradise
Lost might write, "High on a throne of royal gold . . .
Satan exalted sat." In normal, everyday speech, we would
expect to find, "High on a throne of royal gold . . .
Satan sat exalted." Here are some other examples:
and the man I sing"--Virgil.
"This is the sort of English up with which I will not
put."--Variously attributed to Winston Churchill or Mark
"I was in my life alone"--Robert Frost
"Constant you are, but yet a woman"--1 Henry IV,
"Grave danger you are in. Impatient you are." --Yoda, in
Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
"From such crooked wood as state which man is made of,
nothing straight can be fashioned." --Kant
"pity this busy monster manunkind not." --e. e. cummings.
Hyperbaton is an example of a rhetorical
scheme. Click on the
scheme link to see the various subtypes.
the trope of exaggeration or overstatement. See tropes
A hypercatalectic line is
a line of poetry with extra syllables in it beyond the
expected number due to anacrusis,
as opposed to a catalectic line (which is
missing one or more expected syllables) or an acatalectic
line (which has the full number of syllables we would normally
expect). See discussion under catalectic
A grammatical form created when grammarians--on the basis of
too little information or incorrect generalization--mistakenly
try to correct a nonexistent error. For instance, a prescriptivist
grammarian might tell a child not to "drop the g"
in words like talkin' and somthin'--then the
confused child tries to overapply the rule by "correcting"
chicken to chickeng (Algeo 35).
NOVEL: Also called hyperfiction, a hypertext novel
is one written using some variant of HTML programming languages
and published online or on CD-ROM. The hypertext code allows
a reader to click on or select options in such a way that the
narration can move from one place to another in the text whenever
the reader wishes to follow a specific character, trace an idea,
or (in the case of interactive
novels) choose between one or more courses of action
for a character. Examples include Stuart Moulthrop's Victory
Garden and Michael Joyce's Afternoon. Other writers
like Michael Arnzen have experimented with The Goreletter
(horror poetry that secretly installs itself in a subscriber's
computer and then "pops out" unexpectedly with dramatic
messages, images, or sounds).
(Greek for "One who plays a part"): The classical
Athenian word for an actor. Not to be confused with Hippocrates,
the physician who founded the hippocratic oath. Nor should the
term be confused with the plural of English "hypocrite."
Using clauses with a precise degree of subordination and
of the logical relationship between them--i.e., having clear
subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, as opposed to parataxis.
Hypotactic style involves long complex sentences.
The writings of John Milton would be an example.
in a way that creates a catachresis
(see under tropes), an impossible
ordering on the literal level. For instance, Virgil has the
despairing Trojans in the Aeneid cry out in despair as
the city falls, "Let
us die, and rush into the heart of the fight."
Of course, the expected, possible order would be to "rush
into the heart of the fight," and then "die."
Literally, Virgil's sequence would be impossible unless all
the troops died, then rose up as zombies and ran off to fight.
In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare writes, "I
can behold no longer / Th'Antoniad, the Egyptian admiral, /
With all their sixty, fly and turn the rudder"
(3.10.1). We would expect
to turn the rudder and then flee, not flee and then turn the
rudder! See also anastrophe
TO 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
resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:
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Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles.
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Baugh, A. C. and
Thomas Cable. A History of
the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
Brown, Michelle P. Understanding
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Carrick, Jake. E-mail interview. 28 April 2016.
Catholic University of America
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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
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Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
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