Terms and Definitions: I
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated January 11, 2018.
This list is
meant to assist, not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for
important concepts and vocabulary that we will cover during
the term. Vocabulary
terms are listed alphabetically.
A unit or foot
of poetry that consists of a lightly stressed syllable followed
by a heavily stressed syllable. Some words in English naturally
form iambs, such as behold, restore,
amuse, arise, awake, return, Noel, support, depict, destroy,
inject, inscribe, insist, inspire, unwashed, and
so on. A line of poetry written with syllables falling in this
pattern of stress are said to be in iambic meter. See extended
discussion under meter.
Click here to
download a PDF handout that contrasts iambs with other types
of poetic feet. An iamb is also called an iambus
in classical scholarship.
See discussion under meter.
PENTAMETER: See discussion under meter.
Another term for an iamb.
ICE-BERG THEORY: Hemingway's idea that good writing should consist of simple, direct sentences and plain description on the surface, but beneath that simplicity should be hints of psychological tension or symbolic depth suggested by what is visible above. He told an interviewer, "I always try to write on the principle of the ice-berg. There is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows." What remains unspoken or unwritten may be as important as what appears in the text.
(Latin, "blow," or "stroke"): An artificial
stress or diacritical
accent placed over the top of particular syllables in a line
of poetry to indicate which syllables the poet wants the reader
to stress if that stress is not clear from the normal pattern
of pronunciation. Sometimes, later editors will count the syllables
in a line and add an ictus to flesh out the required versification.
For instance, if a Shakespearean play has the word banishéd,
the ictus over the final -e
indicates that the word is probably pronounced as three syllables,
with the heavy accent on the final syllable. Some poets like
Gerard Manley Hopkins use ictuses (icti) to place an
artificial stress on syllables that would not normally be stressed.
J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms
(page 439) offers the following example from Hopkins' poem "Spelt
from Sibyl's Leaves": "self
ín self steepéd and páshed--quite."
Here, the preposition in, which would normally be unstressed,
is artificially stressed by the poet, as is the -ed in
READER: The imaginary audience who would, ideally,
understand every phrase, word, and allusion in a literary
work, and who
would completely understand the literary experience an author
presents, and then responds emotionally as the writer wished.
RHYME: The use of the same words as a "rhymed"
pair. For instance, putting the words stone/
stone or time/ time
at the concluding positions in two lines. Many poets frown upon
identical rhyme as unartful. The technique can, however, add
emphasis to a poetic passage. In medieval French verse, this
fashionable technique was called rime riche. Contrast
J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms (page 441)
offers the example of Keats's Isabella in Stanza XI:
close they met again, before the dusk
Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil,
All close they met, all eyes, before the dusk
Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil,
Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk,
Unknown of any, free from whispering tale.
Also called a logograph or ideogram, this is a written symbol
system in which
a single marking or collection of markings represents not a
phonetic sound but rather an entire word or idea. Classical
Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese are ideographic languages. This
term is contrasted with a phonetic language,
single marking or collection of markings represents a single
sound. For instance, contrast the two markings below.
Above, we see the Mandarin
symbol for tao, a term meaning "the way" or
"the path." The entire marking represents in the abstract
a pilgrim or traveller moving along the road. We cannot break
down the symbol so that one part represents the consonant /t/
sound and another part represents the /aU/
dipthong. On the other hand, when we examine Greek, we might
see a marking like this one:
Here, we see the Greek
ethos, meaning "character, authority, or charisma."
However, the word is spelled out phonetically, with the first
marking indicating the /e/ sound,
the second marking representing the [th]
sound, the next representing an /o/
sound, and the final marking representing the /s/
sound. Similarly, the Latin term for path is via, and
it is written out phonetically as three letters, v, i,
and a. The markings represent
sounds rather than images or ideas. You can find out more
about pictographic ideographs
by downloading this handout.
Keep in mind, modern English is a language with only delusions
of being phonetic.
In actual point of fact, English contains many
letters and variations of spelling that no longer represent
sounds with the same consistency as a purely phonetic language.
To see how far Modern English is from being truly phonetic,
read this poem.
The language or speech pattern unique to one individual at a
particular period of his or her life. Because no total conformity
in pronunciation is possible, each individual has a slightly
different way of pronunciation, a fact that allows computer
voice recognition to note unique markers in a person's voice.
That uniqueness is part of idiolect, as is each person's unique
set of vocabulary and ideosyncrasies of grammar. In terms of
discussing linguistics, however, the specifics of idiolect are
often not particularly useful, and scholars place much more
emphasis on the generalities of dialect. See dialect.
In its loosest sense, the word idiom is often used as
a synonym for dialect
In its more scholarly and narrow sense, an idiom or idiomatic
expression refers to a construction or expression in
one language that cannot be matched or directly translated word-for-word
in another language. For instance, the English expression, "She
has a bee in her bonnet," meaning "she is obsessed,"
cannot be literally translated into another language word for
word. It's a non-literal idiomatic expression, akin to "She
is green with envy." In the same way, the Spanish phrase,
"Me gustan los arboles," is usually translated
as, "I like the trees," but if we were to pull the
phrase apart and read it word for word, it would make no sense
in analytical English (i.e., "To me pleases the trees").
"idols," singular form idolum): False images
of the mind. Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (1620), classifies
the primary fallacies in human thinking as four types: idola
tribus, specus, fori, et theatri (idols of the tribe, the
cave, the market, and the theater).
A composition in verse or prose presenting an idealized story
of happy innocence. The Idylls of Theocritus (c. 250
BC), for example, is a work that describes the pastoral
life of rustic Sicily. Tennyson's poem, Idylls of the King,
presents the idealized, poetic account of Camelot's innocent
existence before its fall to the forces of barbarism, impurity,
A common term of variable meaning, imagery includes the "mental
pictures" that readers experience with a passage of literature.
It signifies all the sensory perceptions referred to in a poem,
whether by literal description, allusion, simile, or metaphor.
Imagery is not limited to visual imagery; it also includes auditory
(sound), tactile (touch), thermal (heat and cold), olfactory
(smell), gustatory (taste), and kinesthetic sensation (movement).
See discussion under fancy.
An early twentieth-century artistic movement in the United States
and Britain. Imagists believed poets should use common, everyday
vocabulary, experiment with new rhythm, and use clear, precise,
Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and
T. E. Hulme are all poets who were adherents of imagism and
were known as imagists. Carl Sandburg's "Fog"
is an example of an imagist poem, and T. E. Hulme's "Above
the Dock." Here are the opening lines to "Above the
the quiet dock in midnight,
Tangled in the tall mast's corded height
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child's balloon, forgotten after play.
Likewise, the concrete imagery is clear
in Sandburg's opening lines to "Fog": "The
fog comes / on little cat feet."
Imagism had its heydey slightly before World War I, but the
emphasis on strong, concrete imagery appears in other literary
periods as well. One could argue that Anglo-Saxon poetry with
its emphasis on concrete language rather than abstraction
is similar to twentieth-century imagism, for instance. The
imagist movement was strongly influenced by the early translations
of haiku into English. Cf. haiku,
See discussion under imagism,
IMBAS FORASNAI: In ancient Celtic legends, the prophetic "light of foresight." Several prophetesses in the epic Táin Bó Cuialnge possess this precognitive power, and it functions to drive the narrative plot by predicting or foreshadowing upcoming events.
SOUND: See discussion under onomatopoeia.
Readers commonly associate this motif or
poetic genre with
17th-century male poets in France--but it derives ultimately
from Latin poetry such as Ovid's Amores 3.7. English
examples have been written by the John Wilmot (the Earl of
and Aphra Behn. Typically, the motif in French literature
deals with a proud or arrogant male lover who discovers in
(a) he is unable to perform sexually, (b) something
unattractive about the woman ruins his desire, or (c) the
woman is an incompetent lover and this ends up spoiling their
loveplay. Commonly, either the male lover or the poetic speaker
blames the woman for this less-than-perfect coition.
Aphra Behn, however, puts
a unique spin on this perspective in "The Disappointment."
In her poem, an omniscient point-of-view allows the reader
to see the desires and emotions of the woman (Cloris) in
her encounter with a masculine lover (Lysander); the male's
inability to perform seems responsible for the woman's frustrated
of the normal French convention for this motif.
FOOT: A metrical foot consisting of a single syllable, either
heavily or lightly stressed. See meter,
RHYME: Another term for inexact
rhyme or slant
IMPERSONAL VERB: A verb
without a real subject--see "impersonal verb construction,"
VERB CONSTRUCTION: A verb used without a
subject or with a largely non-referential "it" as
the subject. For instance, "It is raining."
AUDIENCE: The "you" a writer or poet
refers to or implies when creating a dramatic
monologue. This implied audience might be
(but is not necessarily) the reader of the poem, or
it might be the
vague outline or suggestion of an extra character who is not
described or detailed explicitly in the text itself.
the reader gradually learns who the speaker addresses by garnering
clues from the words of the speaker. For instance, Browning's
"Porphyria's Lover" and Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"
raise some intriguing questions. To whom are these speakers
confessing their murders? Likewise, Browning's "My Last
contains an implied audience who appears to be a messenger
or diplomat sent to make marriage arrangements between the
and some unknown young girl. From context, the speaker is taking
this messenger on a tour of his castle and showing off portraits
and paintings. Likewise, in T. S. Eliot's "The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the speaker begins
by saying, "Let us go then, you and I . . ." The "you"
might be the actual reader of the poem, or it might be an implied
audience (some unknown dinner companion) accompanying Prufrock,
it might be that the implied audience is the speaker himself;
i.e., Prufrock is talking to himself, trying to build up his
courage to make a declaration of love. Contrast with audience
reader. This term is often used interchangeably
(Latin, "let it be printed"): An official license
or official permission to print or publish a book or pamphlet.
In particular, the term refers to a license issued by a censor
of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a license is also called
a "nihil obstat," ("let nothing stand
in the way"), a phrase which often constituted the opening
words of such a document. Scholars often use the term
loosely to refer to any official blessing to an author that
originates from a government, institution, or (in the case of
biographies) surviving family members.
Also called initial mutation, an i-mutation
is a change to the initial sound of a word in response to other
sounds in the following syllable (or to the sounds of other words appearing later in the sentence). This is a common feature of
Celtic languages like Irish and Welsh in which words change
not only their ending
sounds (such as the singular Irish for "coat," cóta, becoming
the plural Irish cótai) but also their beginning
sounds, such as Irish mo chóta. Typically,
such mutations happen when a preceding word requires the change.
In Irish, mo ("my")
causes a change called lenition, so mo + cóta becomes mo chóta ("my
A closely related phenomenon is the i-umlaut,
the raising of a vowel by assimilation to an i or a y sound in
the next syllable. This is common in Germanic languages. For
in Old English, the prehistoric word *socyan probably
became Anglo-Saxon secan because
of i-mutation, and the /k/ sound indicated by the <c> then transformed into the unvoiced alveopalatal affricative, giving us the words beseech instead of beseek, for instance. See also lenition.
MEDIAS RES (Latin: "In
the middle[s] of things"): The classical tradition of
opening an epic not in the chronological point at which the
sequence of events would start, but rather at the midway point
of the story. Later on in the narrative, the hero will recount
verbally to others what events took place earlier. Usually in
medias res is a technique used to heighten dramatic tension
or to create a sense of mystery. This term is the opposite of
the phrase ab
ovo, when a story begins in the beginning and then
proceeds in a strictly chronological manner without using the
characters' dialogue, flashbacks, or memories to hop back and forth in time. (Contrast with
in which the past events are experienced as a memory, and anastrophe,
in which the entire story is cut into chronological pieces and
experienced in a seemingly random or inverted pattern.)
INCANTATION (Latin, in cantare, "to chant or sing in"): A set of words to be chanted, whispered, sung, or rhymed to bring about a magical effect. A large number of incantations survive in medieval manuscripts in both Latin and Anglo-Saxon, and they served as models for later fantasy writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis, for instance, has Lucy go through a magic book in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to find a spell to make invisible things visible, and she accidentally causes Aslan to manifest by doing so. In The Magician's Nephew, the Deplorable Word matches the power of its destruction to the brevity of its phrasing. Tolkien, in contrast, prefers longer rhyming incantations in his work. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings, the barrow-wight has an incantation to charm its victims: "Cold be hand and heart and bone, / and cold be sleep under stone: / never more to wake on stony bed," etc. (141). It takes a longer and more cheerful incantation from Tom Bombadil to undo the charm in subsequent pages.
INCITEMENT PASSAGE: A conventional scene in medieval Germanic sagas in which a female character urges one or more male characters to commit acts of violence against a target for her own selfish reasons--such as vengeance or ambition. The female character might play upon the other male character's sense of honor, question his masculinity, or simply lie to him. An example appears in The Nibelungenlied, in which Brünhild moves Gunther and Hagen to violence. A more familiar example for English students outside of medieval Germanic literature might be Lady Macbeth's manipulation of Macbeth in Shakespeare. Cf. Hvot scene.
INCORPORATIVE: In most languages, different grammatical
components reflect different parts of speech. For instance,
verbs and direct objects are distinct words in most languages,
and thus they require two separate grammatical components. However,
in an incorporative language, these common sentence elements
are combined into a single word. For instance, the incorporative
languages may lack independently functioning verbs and independently
functioning direct objects, but use a single type of word that
fulfill both functions simultaneously. (Instead of saying "I
kicked rocks," with three words, the incorporative language
might use a single verb/object "kickrocks" and accordingly
must use a completely different verb/object to reflect other
In now outdated linguistic
classification, incorporative languages were thought to
"advanced" than isolating
languages but less "advanced" than inflected
languages like Latin (Algeo 58). The Eskimo tongue commonly
known as West Greenlandic is an example of an incorporative
See discussion under succubus.
INDARBA (Old Irish, "banishment"): A traditional motif of banishment or exile in Celtic literature in which the hero is (often unjustly) exiled from his homeland or tribe or falsely imprisoned.
In common parlance, an index is a collection of topics, names,
or chapter subjects arranged by alphabetical order in the back
of a book. Each entry lists behind it the page numbers where
that topic, name, or chapter subject can be found within the
body of the text. In historical parlance, the term The Index
refers to the Inquisition's list of banned works and authors,
the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The Catholic Church
issued these bans to repress or silence heretical, obscene or
"unchristian" materials, preventing their open publication
through the 1500s. See also censorship.
The hypothetically reconstructed language that was the ancient
ancestor of most European, Middle-Eastern, and Indian languages,
including English. Some scholars prefer to use the noun-term
proto-Indo-European to refer to this hypothetical language
and use the adjective Indo-European in reference to
those languages that descend from proto-Indo-European. Click
here for extended information.
Also called Indo-Aryan, this is an obsolete term for Indo-European.
The branch of Indo-European
that includes Persian and Indic.
The logical assumption or process of assuming that what is true
for a single specimen or example is also true for other specimens
or examples of the same type. For instance, if a geologist found
a type of stone called adamantium, and he discovered that it
was very hard and durable, he could assume through induction
that other stones of adamantium are also very hard and durable.
The danger in such an assertion is the risk of hasty generalization.
This process is the opposite of deduction. Induction fashions
a large, general rule from a specific example. Deduction determines
the truth about specific examples using a large general rule.
logic, and logical
fallacies, and syllogism
RHYME: Rhymes created
out of words with similar but not identical sounds. In
most of these
instances, either the vowel segments are different while the
consonants are identical, or vice versa. This type of
is also called approximate rhyme, pararhyme, slant
near rhyme, half rhyme, off rhyme, analyzed
rhyme, or suspended rhyme. The example below comes
from William Butler Yeats:
with emotion I sink down
My heart recovering with covered eyes;
Wherever I had looked I had looked upon
My permanent or impermanent images.
Inexact rhyme has also
been used for splendid intentional effect in poems such
Larkins' "Toads" and "Toads Revisited,"
and has been increasingly popular with postmodern British poets
after World War II. Contrast with eye-rhyme, family rhyme, assonance, consonance, and exact
A rather grim Protestant doctrine associated with Puritan
theologian John Calvin. It is closely associated
with the doctrines of "Total
Elect." The idea of Infant Damnation is
that, since all humans suffer from original sin and share
of their primordial ancestors, Adam and Eve, even newborn
infants are evil and wicked rather than truly innocent.
Accordingly, all fetuses that die in the womb and all infants and children who die in their
youth before achieving the age of reason will face punishment for Adam and Eve's sin
in the afterlife. This contrasts with the Catholic doctrines
developed by Saint
which stated a child who was baptised before the age of
reason by having water sprinkled on his or her forehead would
receive an invisible mark of salvation, and if the child
died before adulthood, he or she would be welcomed into heaven.
the medieval poem Pearl, we find the narrator's
daughter has died as a toddler, but she is now the Bride
of Christ. Likewise, in the Arthurian legends, we read of
the giant cannibal
that lives on a Swiftian diet of babies, but he insists
that each child be baptised before he consumes the babe.
such a Catholic soteriology, stressing through the doctrine of infant damnation that the child can only be saved
by repentence and understanding of Christ's sacrifice.
INFIX: While a prefix is a meaningful syllable or collection of syllables inserted before a main word, and a suffix is a meaningful syllable or collection of syllables added to the end of a main word, an infix is a meaningful syllable splitting in half a larger word. For instance, in the word replay, re- is a prefix added to play. In the word singer, -er is a suffix added to sing. In many languages, infixes are actually added in the middle of the word rather than the front or end alone. The act of inserting infixes is called infixation. Infixation is rare in English except for humorous or colloquial effects. See infixation for examples.
Also called epenthesis, infixation is placing an infix (a new
syllable, a word, or similar phonetic addition) in the middle
of a larger
word. Some languages regularly use infixation as a part of
their standard grammar. In English, infixation is often
used in colloquialisms
or for poetic effect. Shakespeare might write, "A visitating
spirit came last night" to highlight the unnatural status of
the visit. More prosaically, Ned Flanders from The Simpsons
might say, "Gosh-diddly-darn-it,
Homer." Catherine Faber responded to an ambiguous question
with an ambiguous answer by crying out, "Abso-kind-of-lutely."
The resulting word is often a neologism.
or inflected language is one like Latin, German,
or Anglo-Saxon, in which special endings called declensions
appear on the end of noun-stems to indicate case.
Contrast with analytic
INFINITIVE: In Old English, an infinitive with declension
endings attached and used as a noun--a source of much frustration
to graduate students trying to translate Anglo-Saxon texts.
spelled inflexion): The alteration of a word to
provide additional grammatical information
about it--such as a grammatical ending added to a word to mark
its case, tense, number, gender, and so on. Inflections of
verbs are called conjugations.
Inflections of nouns and other parts of speech to show grammatical
case are called declensions.
INFLECTIVE: An inflective
or inflected language is one like Latin, German,
or Anglo-Saxon, in which special endings called declensions
appear on the end of noun-stems to indicate case.
Contrast with analytic
INFORMANT: In folklore studies, anthropology, and linguistics,
an informant is the local individual who tells the folklorist
a folktale, explains a custom to an anthropologist, or who responds
to an interview or dialect study made by a linguist, i.e., a
INITIAL: See discussion under initial,
An enlarged, decorated letter at the beginning of a story,
chapter, poem, or section of text in a medieval manuscript.
This is also called an initial letter. Initials
may be inhabited (having a small creature,
animal, or person depicted inside the letter without
to the text's contents), historiated (having
an illustration of a scene or event that clearly connects
the story or subject-matter described in the text), or decorated
(having elaborate abstract designs unrelated to the text).
INITIALISM: Any word, whether an acronym or an alphabetism,
formed from the first letters of other words. See discussion
for more information.
LETTER: Another term for an initial.
INK: According to Michelle P. Brown,
The word [ink] derives
from the Latin encaustum (“burnt
in”), since the gallic and tannic acids in ink and
the oxidation of its ingredients cause it to eat into the
writing surface. The basis of medieval ink was a solution
of gall (from gallnuts) and gum, colored by the addition
of carbon (lampblack) and/or iron salts. The ferrous ink
produced by iron salts sometimes faded to a red-brown or
yellow. Copper salts were occasionally used too, sometimes
fading to gray-green. Ink was used for drawing and ruling
as well as for writing and, when diluted, could be applied
with a brush as a wash.” (73)
NB: Gallnuts aren’t
actually nuts. They are swellings that form in the bark
after it has been stung
by an insect laying its eggs. The black seepage from this swellings
forms the primary ingredient in medieval manuscript ink in
Western Europe, though in some Mediterranean regions, squid
ink was used. In poorer monasteries, ash diluted in water
might be used as a cheap substitute.
TERM: A word--often experimental or pompous--introduced
into English during the Renaissance, especially
one used primarily
in writing rather than everyday conversation. Thomas
Wilson wrote in his Arte of Rhetorique (1553):
all other lessons this should first be learned, that wee never
affect any straunge ynkehorne termes, but to speake as is
commonly received: neither seeking to be over fine or yet
living over-carelesse, using our speeche as most men doe,
and ordering our wittes as the fewest have done. Some seeke
so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether
their mothers language. And I dare sweare this, if some of
their mothers were alive, thei were not able to tell what
they say: and yet these fine English clerkes will say, they
speake in their mother tongue, if a man should charge them
for counterfeiting the Kings English.
Michael Quinion lists some examples
in a web
article examples such as follows: anacephalize, adnichilate,
eximious, exolete, illecebrous, ingent, and obtestate.
INKLINGS: A group of literary-minded scholars and friends at Oxford, largely centered around C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who gathered informally and socially to read to each other their writings. Sometimes, they met at local bars such as "The Eagle and Child" (known colloquially as "The Bird and Baby);" or when convenient, they met in empty rooms in Magdalen college. Their members would take turns reading aloud their scholarly and artistic works in progress before they submitted them publication, while the other members listened and gave reviews (often caustic, pulling no punches!) to their fellows.
The Inklings group formed from the remains of a similar club called "The Cave" which met up through the early 1930s, and overlapped somewhat with J.R.R. Tolkien's Kolbítar (a group of Oxfordians who gathered to read the Eddas and sages in Old Norse for fun). fa , but However, when C.S. Lewis' brother could no longer make meetings of the Cave, Lewis largely high-jacked the members of that organization to form the Inklings as a replacement or competitor. The Inklings met regularly from 1933-1949, and their members included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Adam Fox, Warren Lewis, (C.S.'s brother), Colin Hardie, Warren Lewis, Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R.'s son), Hugo Dyson, and a number of prominent medievalists such as J.A.W. Bennett, Nevill Coghill, and Charles Wren.
SOUTHERN: A subdialect of southern. More information:
INNER RING: In his memorial lecture at King's Cross College, London, C. S. Lewis used the term "Inner Ring" for a subtle type of cronyism and peer pressure, i.e., for groups of individuals who gather together not out of affection or friendship or common interest, but out of a desire to be part of an informal elite. He felt that such social gatherings formed when members desired a sense of secret superiority and subtle exclusion. In general C.S. Lewis distrusted cliques for utilitarian purposes in which members hope to use their connections to each other to advance themselves in some way. What modern individuals see as beneficial (or at least harmless) networking, Lewis suggests often leads to moral corruption as one compromised his or her beliefs to be part of the group. He contrasts this with Aristotle's ideas of friendship as a virtue when it formed naturally around shared work, shared interests, or shared habits of mind.
INORGANIC -E: A spoken -e
added to the end of certain Middle
English words that, historically, should not
be there. Many Middle English words had their final -e's
pronounced before the Great
Vowel Shift, but others artificially gained the
extra unaccented syllable by faulty linguistic analogy. See
HAND: See insular script, below.
SCRIPT (From Latin insula, island): Also
called insular hand, this term refers to
a compact style of handwriting invented by Irish monks. An
example appears here.
From Ireland, the insular script spread through Britain, where
it became the most common script used by the Anglo-Saxon monks.
A word such as very that strengthens or intensifies
the word it modifies.
INTENTIONAL FALLACY: In the New Criticism movement of the early 1900s, New Critics sought to re-focus scholarly attention on the qualities of the literature itself as it appeared in the text, divorced from concerns about historical background or authorial biography. One of these tenets was that seeking to uncover the author's intentions in a work could actually prove unhelpful in understanding the text. Partly, this distrust occurs for several reasons:
- because it is often impossible to uncover those intentions (especially when the authors are anonymous, secretive, or reclusive),
- because authors may not themselves know what they intended--being driven by intuitive creativity and subconscious urges
- because authors frequently make inconsistent claims about their intentions in a given work in different interviews or letters over the course of their lives
- because authors may start with one intention when they begin a literary work but then abandon or alter that goal over time as the work progresses
- because even if a literary critic can pin down the author's intention, that does not necessarily mean the author successfully achieved that goal--the literary work may produce a very different effect than what the author wanted.
For instance, many readers see the character of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia as an allegorical representation of Christ. Lewis claimed that was not his intention. Instead, he wanted to imagine what a being like Christ would be like if it were incarnated not in a human body but an animal body. The question then becomes, should we limit critical interpretation to what Lewis intended to do (or at least stated he intended to do)? Or would it be valid to expand our interpretive horizons beyond those stated goals? New Critics would argue that claiming that the only valid way to read a literary work is according to the author's stated intentions is actually an error or fallacy in interpretation--hence the term intentional fallacy. See also the closely related biographical fallacy.
NOVEL: A "choose-your-own-adventure" style
novel in which the reader has the option to choose what will
happen next, creating a different possible series of events
or endings for the narrative. Often this means a single reader
might read the same book several times, each time experiencing
a different plotline. Alternatively, different readers might
experience different stories when reading the same book and
making different choices. A recent type of interactive novel
has been the experimental hypertext
INTERDENTAL: In linguistics, this term refers to
any sound made by placing the tongue between the upper and
INTERLACE: Not to be confused with interlaced rhyme (below), some Anglo-Saxon scholars use the word interlace as a way to compare the formulaic repetitions of some lines in Beowulf with the repetition of linear patterns found in both Anglo-Saxon artwork and in Celtic knotwork such as The Book of Kells. The idea is that, just as the visual motifs in the artwork repeat and interweave with one another, certain lines in the Anglo-Saxon poem repeat and interweave with the narrative material.
RHYME: In long couplets, especially hexameter lines, sufficient
room in the line allows a poet to use rhymes in the middle
of the line as well as at the end of each line. Swinburne's
"Hymn to Proserpine" illustrates its use:
hast conquered, O pale Galilean;
the world has grown grey from Thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean,
and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season,
and love is sweet for a day;
But love grows bitter with treason,
and laurel outlives not May.
In the excerpt above,
the words in red are part
of the interlaced rhyme, and the words in green
are regular rhyme. Interlaced rhyme is also called crossed
rhyme. Contrast with internal
MONOLOGUE: A type of stream
of consciousness in which the author depicts the interior
thoughts of a single individual in the same order these thoughts
occur inside that character's head. The author does not attempt
to provide (or provides minimally) any commentary, description,
or guiding discussion to help the reader untangle the complex
web of thoughts, nor does the writer clean up the vague surge
of thoughts into grammatically correct sentences or a logical
order. Indeed, it is as if the authorial voice ceases to exist,
and the reader directly "overhears" the thought
pouring forth randomly from a character's mind. M. H. Abrams
notes that an example of an interior monologue can be found
in the "Lestrygonian" episode of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Here, Leopold Bloom wanders past a candy shop in Dublin, and
his thoughts wander back and forth:
rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. A sugar-sticky girl shoveling
scoopfuls of creams for a christian brother. Some school
great. Bad for their tummies. Lozenge and comfit manufacturer
to His Majesty the King. God. Save. Our. Sitting on his
throne, sucking red jujubes white.
Contrast with stream
of consciousness and dramatic
AUDIENCE: An imaginary listener(s) or audience to
whom a character speaks in a poem or story. For example,
speaking in Browning's "My Last Duchess" appears
to be addressing the reader as if the reader were an individual
walking with him through his estate admiring a piece of art.
There are suggestions that this listener, whom the duke
might be an ambassador or diplomat sent to arrange a marriage
between the widower duke and a young girl of noble birth.
This term is often used interchangeably with implied
RHYME: A poetic device in which a word in the middle of
a line rhymes with a word at the end of the same metrical
line. Internal rhyme appears in the first and third lines
in this excerpt from Shelley's "The Cloud":
silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.
In the excerpt above,
the word laugh is an internal rhyme with cenotaph,
and the word womb is an internal rhyme with tomb.
Other examples include the Mother Goose rhyme, "Mary,
Mary, quite contrary," or Coleridge's Ancient Mariner,
("We were the first that ever burst / Into that silent
sea"). Contrast with interlaced
Patterns of pitch in sentences.
An intransitive verb is a verb that does not have a direct
object (and often
one that by its very nature cannot take such an object
at all). See discussion under transitive.
MEANING: Meaning that originates not within a work itself,
but that originates in a related work in the same collection.
For instance, in William Blake's Songs of Innocence, Songs
of Experience, we find a poem called "The Lamb"
and a second poem called "The Tiger." Each poem
can be read by itself and makes perfect sense in isolation.
However, when we encounter them both within the larger collection,
they echo ideas found in each other. The simplicity of imagery,
innocent repetition, and child-like diction in "The Lamb"
serve as a sharp foil
to the fear, doubt, and theological unease of "The Tiger."
When the poetic speaker in "The Tiger" asks, "Did
He who made the Lamb make Thee?" the reference invokes
a deeper meaning by harkening outside "The Tiger"
itself to the meaning of the earlier poem, "The Lamb,"
in which the speaker explains to the lamb that God made it.
The effect is to make the reader wonder how the kind and benevolent
deity of "The Lamb," the sort of God that creates
innocent children and puppies, can be the same deity that
creates cruel, destructive forces in nature such as the tiger,
a beast which seems to thrive on pain and fear.
We see similar signs of
intra-textual meaning in The Canterbury Tales, in which
the various pilgrims tales seem to "bounce off"
each other, echoing the themes, phrasing, concerns, and ideas
of previous storytellers. For instance, "The Wife of
Bath's Prologue" raises the question of what makes a
happy marriage. Later tales, such as the Clerk's, the Franklin's,
and the Merchant's tales, will take up the same idea. Each
one's final assertion about the nature of marriage is enriched
and complicated by the ideas that appear in the earlier tales,
even if the later pilgrims make no direct reference to them.
The overall meaning originates not in one single pilgrim's
pronouncement, but rather between or amongst
the various statements made by other pilgrims.
PLOT: The dramatic representation
of how two young lovers, often with the assistance of a maidservant,
friend, or soubrette,
foil the blocking agent represented by a parent, priest, or
In linguistics, the introduction of a sound into a word that,
historically, should not have such a sound in that spot. See
also intrusive r and intrusive
schwa for examples immediately below.
R: A type of linguistic intrusion in which
the letter [r] appears in an
etymologically unexpected location, such as as between two
words in which one ends in a vowel and the next word begins
in a vowel. For instance, Algeo notes that many dialects insert
an [r] in this manner: "Cuba[r]
is south of Florida" (321). See intrusion.
In linguistics, the addition of a schwa sound where historically
it has no
etymological basis. For instance, Algeo notes that some dialects
add a schwa sound between the <n>
and <r> in the name Henry,
pronouncing it as three syllables. Floridan residents create
an intrusive schwa between the <s>
and <m> in Smyrna
when they refer to New Smyrna Beach. The now archaic word
alarum is simply alarm
with an intrusive schwa. Some linguists call an intrusive
schwa a svarabhakti vowel, naming it after the same
phenomenon in certain Sanksrit words. Others refer to it
Speech or writing that attacks, insults, or denounces a person,
topic, or institution, usually involving negative emotional
(plural, inventiones from Latin
invenire, "to come upon, to discover",
cf. Modern English "invention"): in classical rhetoric,
inventiones were techniques for brainstorming, for
"finding" material to talk about in a speech or
to write about in a composition. Click here for more
Another term for anastrophe.
OF THE MUSE: A prayer or address made to the one of the
nine muses of Greco-Roman mythology, in which the poet asks
for the inspiration, skill, knowledge, or appropriate mood
to create a poem worthy of his subject-matter. The invocation
of the muse traditionally begins Greco-Roman epics
See also muses.
IPA: The abbreviation for the International Phonetic Alphabet, a series of symbols in which linguists have designed each single written symbol (grapheme) with the goal of reproducing a single, indivisible unit of sound (phoneme). Its purpose is to capture as accurately as possible the way words are actually pronounced, including elements of accent and stress that normal alphabetical systems typically ignore.
LITERARY RENAISSANCE: See discussion under Celtic
Cicero referred to irony as "saying one thing and meaning
another." Irony comes in many forms. Verbal irony
(also called sarcasm) is a trope
in which a speaker makes a statement in which its actual meaning
differs sharply from the meaning that the words ostensibly
express. Often this sort of irony is plainly sarcastic in
the eyes of the reader, but the characters listening in the
story may not realize the speaker's sarcasm as quickly as
the readers do. Dramatic irony (the most important
type for literature) involves a situation in a narrative in
which the reader knows something about present or future circumstances
that the character does not know. In that situation, the character
acts in a way we recognize to be grossly inappropriate to
the actual circumstances, or the character expects the opposite
of what the reader knows that fate holds in store, or the
character anticipates a particular outcome that unfolds itself
in an unintentional way. Probably the most famous example
of dramatic irony is the situation facing Oedipus in the play
Oedipus Rex. Situational irony (also called
cosmic irony) is a trope in which accidental
events occur that seem oddly appropriate, such as the poetic
justice of a pickpocket getting his own pocket picked. However,
both the victim and the audience are simultaneously aware
of the situation in situational irony--which is not the case in dramatic irony. Probably the most famous
example of situational irony is Jonathan Swift's A Modest
Proposal, in which Swift "recommends" that English
landlords take up the habit of eating Irish babies as a food
staple. See also Socratic
VERB: A verb that doesn't follow common verb patterns.
For instance, think/thought
and be/am/was. Most
irregular English verbs today are the remains of the old Anglo-Saxon
See discussion under parallelism.
When linguists create maps showing where dialects are spoken,
would be the boundary lines they draw. These isoglosses
chart where a particular linguistic feature appears or
does not appear. For instance, the use of the second person
plural "y'all" might be mapped in the American
south, and the second person plural "youse"
might be mapped around the Bronx and New Jersey. These
would be different isoglosses on the map.
LANGUAGE: In now obsolete language studies,
linguists used the label "isolating" to refer
to a language with words that tend not to vary--i.e.,
one in which each
idea tends to be expressed by a single monosyllabic word
is rare or nonexistent. European scholars in the eighteenth
and early nineteenth century often held up Chinese as a
isolating language and classified it as a "primitive"
or "undeveloped language," but further study indicated
that Mandarin Chinese was actually quite ancient, and in
originally had been much more polysyllabic. This discovery
demolished the simplistic model of agglutinative linguistic
current in older centuries.
SONNET: Another term for a Petrarchan sonnet. See discussion
The branch of Indo-European
languages giving rise to Latin and Romance languages
like Spanish, French, and Italian. Italic is not to
be confused with italic font or italics. (See
A style of printing in which the tops of letters and punctuation
marks gently slope to the right. Italics are often used by
typesetters to indicate greater emphasis for a word or phrase.
Other typesetters use italics to differentiate between various
types of material. Foreign phrases such as Latin, French,
and Spanish expressions are often placed in italic fonts to
differentiate them from the rest of the sentence in English.
Linguists and grammarians also use italics to indicate that
a word or term is being discussed as a word per se.
Finally, it is conventional to italicize or underline the
titles of various long literary and major artistic works.
You can click
here for extended discussion of these conventions. Note
that in handwritten documents in which italics are not clearly
visible, it is preferable to indicate the italics by underlining
the word. Many editors and publishers also call for underlining
in any document presented for publication, and the typesetters
ultimately will convert the underlined words to italics in
the final published version. This policy does lead to complications
with HTML text, in which an underlined word or phrase normally
indicates a hyperlink rather than a title. Aldus
Manutius the Elder (1450-1515 CE) invented the italic typeface.
the Italic and Celtic branches of Indo-European
are called Italo-Celtic; the two groups share many general
linguistic traits but are still too different to be considered
a single branch.
TOWER: A derogatory term for a place, situation, or philosophical
outlook that ignores or overlooks practical, worldly affairs.
A French literary critic named Sainte-Beuve coined the phrase,
and the term has become popular in American vernacular as
well. Poets, artists, scholars, teachers, and other intellectuals
are often accused of "living in an ivory tower"--i.e.,
hiding from the real world or putting all their effort into
impractical ideals. The term presupposes that art and thinking
are irrelevant in the real world and that such foci are unhelpful
in achieving real happiness, understanding, or social change.
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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