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Literary Terms and Definitions: O

This page is under perpetual construction! It was last updated August 15, 2016.


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

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

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

OBELISK: Also called a dagger, this punctuation mark looks much like a Christian cross. It was common in older texts to use this mark to indicate a digression or extraneous text moved out of the main body of the essay and relocated at the bottom of the page as a sidenote. If more than one such section needed such relocation, the second passage was marked by a "double dagger" that looked like two crosses attached together along the vertical line of the crosses. The obelisk has fallen out of common use today, as most modern editors prefer using footnotes. The Uniform Code to create an obelisk on a PC is ALT + 0134.

OBJECTIVE CORRELATIVE: Click here for a pdf handout explaining this term.

OBJECTIVE FORM: A form of pronouns used as the objects of prepositions and verbs. Examples include the pronouns him, her, and them. Modern English uses a single objective form to mark what originally had been two grammatical cases--the accusative and the dative.

OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW: See discussion under point of view.

OBLIQUE FORM: The various forms or cases of any word in a declined language except the nominative form or nominative case. The term "oblique" to describe this comes from medieval grammar exercises, where a young monk would list all the declensions of a Latin word at an oblique angle except for the nominative form. Thus, these forms became known as "oblique forms."

OCCASIONAL POEM: A poem written or recited to commemorate a specific event such as a wedding, an anniversary, a military victory or failure, a funeral, a holiday, or other notable date. It may be light or serious. Notable examples are Milton's "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont," Marvell's "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland," Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" and Yeats's "Easter 1916." Some of Chaucer's poetry was occasional verse. He probably wrote "The Book of the Duchess" either within a few months of the death of John of Gaunt's wife (traditionally dated as 12 September 1369), or he may possibly have written it for one of the later annual commemorative services Gaunt held to honor the anniversary of her death. Likewise, Chaucer may have written "The Parliament of Fowls" for Valentine's Day in 1380 as a light-hearted recital to mark the negotiations concerning the marriage of Richard II to Princess Anne of Bohemia. Contrast with place poem.

OCTAVE: Not to be confused with octavo, below, an octave is the first part of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet; an octave is a set of eight lines that rhyme according to the pattern ABBAABBA. See sonnet, below.

OCTAVO: Not to be confused with octave, above, octavo is a term from the early production of paper and vellum in the medieval period. When a single, large uncut sheet is folded once and attached to create two leaves, or four pages, and then bound together, the resulting text is called a folio. If the folio is in turn folded in half once more and cut, the resulting size of page is called a quarto. If the quarto is in turn folded in half and cut once more, the result is an octavo. Thus, an octavo is a book made of sheets of material folded three times, to create eight leaves, or sixteen pages, each about 4 inches wide and 5 inches high, to make a tiny book. On a single sheet, the page visible on the right-hand side of an open book or the "top" side of such a page is called the recto side (Latin for "right"), and the reverse or "bottom" side of such a page (the page visible on the left-hand side of an open book) is called the verso side. Only one of Shakespeare's Renaissance plays, Richard Duke of York (better known as Henry VI, Part 3) was published in octavo format, but many medieval psalters and books of hours appear in octavo manuscripts. Compare octavo with folio and quarto (below).

ODE: A long, often elaborate stanzaic poem of varying line lengths and sometimes intricate rhyme schemes dealing with a serious subject matter and treating it reverently. The ode is usually much longer than the song or lyric, but usually not as long as the epic poem. Conventionally, many odes are written or dedicated to a specific subject. For instance, "Ode to the West Wind" is about the winds that bring change of season in England. Keats has a clever inversion of this convention in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," in which his choice of the preposition on implies the poem actually exists in the artwork on the urn itself, rather than as a separate piece of literary art in his poetry. Classical odes are often divided by tone, with Pindaric odes being heroic and ecstatic and Horatian odes being cool, detached, and balanced with criticism. Andrew Marvell's "Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" is an example of a Horatian ode.

OED: The standard abbreviation among scholars for The Oxford English Dictionary, a huge twenty+ volume set that functions as an historical dictionary--generally considered the most authoritative and scholarly dictionary of English available. See Oxford English Dictionary.

OEDIPAL COMPLEX: The late Victorian and early twentieth-century psychologist Freud argued that male children, jealous of sharing their mother's attention with a father-figure, would come to possess a subconscious incestuous desire to kill their fathers and have sex with their mothers. They would in a sense desire to usurp the father's place in the household. In most healthy adults, this urge would be repressed and channeled into other pursuits, but echoes of the hidden desire would linger in the psyche. Freud coined the phrase from the myth of Oedipus, the doomed Greek hero. In Oedipus's infancy, prophets predicted that he would kill his own father and marry his mother. Every effort made to thwart the prophecy, however, ended up bringing it about. The events are recounted most masterfully in Sophocles's play, Oedipus Rex. Oedipus's crimes--though he was unknowing--brought about a dreadful a curse on his family, and violence lingered to haunt the family in future generations, as recounted in plays like Antigonê. Several famous characters in myth and literature seem to haunted by a similar jealousy comparable to the phenomenon Freud describes. For instance, Greek mythology is littered with younger deities that usurp their father's position and castrate the elder god after assuming power, such as the way Zeus overthrows Chronos. Concerning the play Hamlet, diverse psychoanalytical critics have commented on Hamlet's rage at his Gertrude's sexual romps and Hamlet's tormented desire to murder his uncle/father-figure Claudius. See Freudian criticism and wish fulfillment.

OFF GLIDE: In linguistics, the second-half of a diphthong sound.

OFF RHYME: In poetry, another term for inexact rhyme.

OGAM (also spelled ogham, pronounced either OH-yeem or AG-em): The term comes from Old Irish, "Oghma," probably an eponym of Oghma the Irish god of invention. It refers to a form of symbolic Celtic markings common in the 5th and 6th centuries in which a communicant would scratch or notch a series of marks on the edge of a stone or on a stick to indicate letters. The number and direction of the scratches or notches indicated the specific sound to form a word, and together they constituted an entire writing system. Ogam markings are commonly found on Irish standing stones, tombs, and boundary markers, and the alphabet the Irish used consisted of 20 letters, though slightly different systems existed in Wales and in Europe. Click here for a handout on ogam markings.

OGHAM: See discussion under ogam, above.

O. HENRY ENDING: Also called a trick ending or a surprise ending, this term refers to a totally unexpected and unprepared-for turn of events, one which alters the action in a narrative. O. Henry endings usually do not work well with foreshadowing, but particularly clever artists may craft their narratives so that the foreshadowing exists in retrospect.The term comes from the short stories of O. Henry (a pen name for William Sidney Porter), which typically involve such a conclusion. Note that an O. Henry ending is usually a positive term of praise for the author's cleverness. This is the opposite sentiment from a deus ex machina ending, in which the unexpected or unprepared-for ending strikes the audience as artificial, arbitrary, or unartful.

OLD COMEDY: The Athenian comedies dating to 400-499 BCE, featuring invective, satire, ribald humor, and song and dance. See further discussion under stock character.

OLD ENGLISH: Also known as Anglo-Saxon, Old English is the ancestor of Middle English and Modern English. It is a Germanic language that was introduced to the British Isles by tribes such as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in a series of invasions in the fifth century. Poems such as Beowulf are samples of Old English. Old English was common in England from about 449 AD up to about 1100 AD. The Norman Conquest in 1066 introduced a new ruling class of Normans who spoke French, and the influx of French vocabulary altered Old English, eventually resulting in Middle English. See Middle English and Modern English. To see computerized lettering and words transcribed from an Old English document, click here. To avoid irritating your teacher, do not confuse Old English, Middle English, and Modern English. This diagram will help you contrast them.

OLFACTORY IMAGERY: Imagery dealing with scent. See imagery.

OLLAMH: An ancient Irish storyteller. The ollamh profession flourished between the sixth and fifteenth centuries. They were required professionally to know 350 stories to hold the rank. The Welsh equivalent is a cyfarwydd.

OLYMPIAN: Known as the "theoi," in Greek, the Olympian deities were those gods in Greco-Roman mythology who resided or frequently met on the top of Mount Olympus as part of Zeus' advisors and close family. They were traditionally numbered at twelve, though accounts varied slightly in which deities fell into this category. The Greeks saw the Olympian deities as contrasting with both the Twelve Titans (whom Zeus overthrew to establish his own reign) and with the older chthonic gods (i.e., the spirits of the dead, and fertility spirits of blood and vengeance associated the earth).

OMEN: A miraculous sign, a natural disaster, or a disturbance in nature that reveals the will of the gods in the arena of politics or social behavior or predicts a coming change in human history. Greek culture held that if the gods were upset, they might visit the lands with monsters, ghosts, floods, storms, and grotesque miracles to reveal their displeasure. Comets might appear in the heavens--or phantom armies might fight in the clouds. For instance, in the Odyssey, Book 12, lines 55-60, Odysseus's starving sailors slaughter and eat the holy cattle on the Isle of Hélios. They then see a dire portent, when the dead cows animate like zombies while in the midst of being cooked:

And soon the gods sent portents:
The flayed hides crawled along the ground; the flesh
Upon the spits, both roast and raw, began
To bellow; we heard the sounds of lowing cows.

After the heroic age of Homer, earth tremors and similar disruptions also could lead governmental debate to a standstill in Athens--a fact causing some discomfort since Greece has always been a tectonically active area.

The Romans likewise shared this belief that strange meteorological and biological behavior indicated the displeasure of the heavens. During the days of the Roman Republic, in the year 60 BCE, a great storm uprooted trees, destroyed houses, and sank ships in the Tiber. Cicero argued these disasters showed the gods were upset with Julius Caesar's proposed legislative changes. Likewise, if a vote passed in the Roman senate, and lightning was seen to flash in the sky, the Senate would often repeal whatever legislaton they just passed. (The Roman politician Bibulus was notorious for trying to overturn legislation this way; each time a law passed he did not favor, he would claim to see a flash of lightning on the horizon--even if the sky was blue and cloudless.) Likewise, one of the more important government officials in Rome was the pullarius, the guardian of the sacred roosters that would pluck out messages in grain for priests to interpret.

This superstition about omens did not die out with the end of pagan belief. Medieval Christians could point to the ten plagues of Egypt as a biblical incident in which natural disturbances were linked to divine activity and historic change, so they readily incorporated these Greco-Roman ideas in the doctrine of the Chain of Being. The idea was still prevalent in Shakespeare's day, so Shakespeare accompanies the murder of King Duncan in Macbeth with an eclipse, fierce storms, and a bizarre outbreak of cannibalism in which the horses in the royal stables eat each other alive. In the same way, in the play Hamlet, the appearance of the ghost at Elsinore and the comet in the sky convinces the scholarly Horatio that some great disturbance of the state is at hand.

ONEIROMANCY: The belief that dreams could predict the future, or the act of predicting the future by analyzing dreams. Elements of oneiromantic belief may have influenced the genre of medieval dream visions, especially Biblical passages regarding divine premonitions appearing in the form of dreams. Likewise, in Renaissance literature such as Shakespeare's plays, Shakespeare readily adapted oneiromantic beliefs into the dreams of his characters to create foreshadowing.

ONOMASTIC: Related to names. For instance, a character's name might contain an onomastic symbol--if that character is named Faith (as in "Young Goodman Brown") or Lucy Westenra (which means "the light of the west") in Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Pandarus (which means "all-giving" and puns on "pander") in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Toponyms are also of interest to onomastic studies.

ONOMATOPOEIA: The use of sounds that are similar to the noise they represent for a rhetorical or artistic effect. For instance, buzz, click, rattle, and grunt make sounds akin to the noise they represent. A higher level of onomatopoeia is the use of imitative sounds throughout a sentence to create an auditory effect. For instance, Tennyson writes in The Princess about "The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees." All the /m/ and /z/ sounds ultimately create that whispering, murmuring effect Tennyson describes. In similar ways, poets delight in choosing sounds that match their subject-matter, such as using many clicking k's and c's when describing a rapier duel (to imitate the clack of metal on metal), or using many /s/ sounds when describing a serpent, and so on. Robert Browning liked squishy sounds when describing squishy phenomena, and scratchy sounds when describing the auditory effect of lighting a match, such as in his poem "Meeting at Night": "As I gain the cove with pushing prow, / And quench its speed i' the slushy sand. / a tap at the pane, the quick sharp, scratch / and blue spurt of a lighted match." The technique is ancient, and we can find a particularly cunning example in Virgil's Latin, in which he combines /d/ and /t/ sounds along with galloping rhythm to mimic in words the sound of horses he describes: "Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum. . . ." Onomatopoeia appears in all languages, and it is a common optional effect in various genres such as the Japanese haiku.

ONTOLOGY--The branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of existence: what things exist and in what ways they exist. This branch often contrasts with epistemology--the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge--i.e., how we know something, in what ways we can know something, and what mental limitations prevent us from knowing certain things.

OPEN-AIR THEATER: An amphitheater, especially the unroofed public playhouses in the suburbs of London. Shakespeare's Globe and the Rose are two examples.

OPEN POETIC FORM: A poem of variable length, one which can consist of as many lines as the poet wishes to write. Every poem written in open poetic form, therefore, is unique. Open poetic form contrasts with closed poetic form, in which the specific subgenre of poetry requires a predetermined number of stanzas, lines, feet, or other components. For instance, a sonnet is a closed poetic form, in which the poem can be no more or no less than fourteen lines long, with ten syllables in each line. Open poetic form is not to be confused with free verse poetry. Free verse poetry is a subtype of open poetry, but it is not constrained by any conventions at all regarding meter or rhyme. For example, Alfred Noyes, "The Highwayman" is in open poetic form. Although "The Highwayman" has a set structure for rhyme and meter, the number of stanzas necessary to tell the poem is not predetermined by a required length, as is the case in a limerick or a sonnet. However, Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" is written in open poetic form and it is also written in free verse form. Whitman's lines vary in length, and the meter varies from passage to passage, and any rhymes appear haphazardly rather than as part of a predetermined pattern required by a genre's constraints.

OPEN SYLLABLE: Any syllable ending in a vowel, like the word tree.

OPEN SYSTEM: A system that can be adjusted for new functions or purposes, and hence produce new and unpredicted results. Human language is an example of an open system. To a lesser extent, so is XML code (extensible markup language), such as the HTML that makes this webpage.

OPOYAZ: In early 20th-century Russia, the abbreviated name of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language--a group of young philogists and literary theorists who gathered in 1916 and who became instrumental in creating the Formalist School of Russian literary criticism (Harkins 267).

ORAL FORMULAIC: Having traits associated with works intended to be spoken aloud before an audience of listeners. Examples of oral formulaic traits are (1) repetition of words or passages, (2) use of epithets after or before a character's name, (3) mnemonic devices to help the speaker with recitation, (4) subdivision into sections suitable for recital during a single evening, (5) summaries of previous material in each section to help a listening audience keep track of complicated plot, and (6) episodic structure that allows the speaker to "ad lib" sections if he or she forgets a passage. Critics such as Miltman Parry have argued that literature such as Beowulf, the Tain, and Homer's Odyssey show signs of oral formulaic structure, which suggests the poems may have existed for centuries as recited materials (oral transmission) before being written down as a text.

ORAL TRANSMISSION: The spreading or passing on of material by word of mouth. Before the development of writing and the rise of literacy, oral transmission and memorization was the most common means by which narrative and poetic art could spread through a culture. See ballad, bard, epic, folklore, oral-formulaic, etc.

ORCHESTRA (Greek "dancing place"): (1) In modern theaters, the ground-floor area on the first floor where the audience sits to watch the play; (2) in classical Greek theaters, a central circle where the chorus performed

ORDER OF THE GARTER: An elite order of knights first founded around 1347-1348 by King Edward III. The Knights of the Garter traditionally wore as their emblem a lady's garter around one leg. According to one legend, this emblem and the order's motto came about when King Edward kneeled down to pick up a garter that had fallen from Joan of Kent's leg, much to her embarrassment. King Edward supposedly placed it on his own leg (or in some versions of the legend, placed it back on her leg), and turned to admonish the courtiers who were snickering. He said in French "Honi soit qui mal y pense" ("Shame to him who thinks evil of it," or, more popularly, "Evil to him who evil thinks.") This became the motto of his elite knights. Some scholars dismiss this legend as folklore, and instead suggest that the garter might symbolize the homage paid by knights to ladies; others suggest that the circular nature of the garter is an allusion to King Arthur's round table; King Edward had attempted to revive the Arthurian legends in association with his own court, and the round table played a prominent part in the Arthurian myth. The Knights of the Garter (KG) exist to this day in England, and meet every year at Windsor Castle. Click here for more information and some photos from recent induction ceremonies. Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor is set at Windsor during one of these annual inductions, and it may have first been performed for Elizabeth when the Lord Chamberlain (Shakespeare's immediate boss) was being inducted into the Order of the Garter. The text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight concludes with the order's motto at the end of the tale.

ORGANIC -E: An <e> that is (or at one time was) pronounced and serves a purpose in distinguishing declensions. In Old and Middle English, this <e> was pronounced--often as a lightly stressed syllable. By the Renaissance, the -e at the end of many words was merely a scribal -e, one added for decorative reasons or spelling reform, but not one that necessarily "belonged" there due to past historical reasons.

ORGANIC UNITY: An idea common to Romantic poetry and influential up through the time of the New Critics in the twentieth century, the theory of organic unity suggests all elements of a good literary work are interdependent upon each other to create an emotional or intellectual whole. If any one part of the art is removed--whether it is a character, an action, a speech, a description, or authorial observation--the entire work diminishes in potency as a result. The idea also suggests that the growth or development of a piece of good literature--from its beginning to its end--occurs naturally according to an understandable sequence. That sequence may be chronological, logical, or otherwise step-by-step in some productive manner. See also unity.

ORIGINAL SIN: A theological doctrine arguing that all humans at the moment of conception inherit collective responsibility and guilt for the sins of Adam and Eve along with an innate tendency towards evil. The idea is largely inspired by Romans 5:12, which reads, "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men." Many modern interpreters consider the "one man" to be Adam, and thus Adam's actions caused innate sinfulness and the cycle of death-and-life to enter the world. The term "original sin" (Latin, peccatum origine) does not appear in the Bible, however. Tertullian coined the phrase in the second century, and Saint Augustine popularized it and elaborated upon it in his theological writings. Many modern Christians think of original sin as the consequence of Adam eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden. For Saint Augustine and Tertullian, however, when they first developed the doctrine, the source of original sin in later generations was not that Adam and Eve ate the fruit, but that he and Eve engaged in sex later while in a state of sin. It was this secondary sinful act, argued Augustine, that passed along the taint of original sin to subsequent generations, rendering humanity incapable of achieving salvation without divine grace.

Original sin as a theological component of soteriology has had a profound effect on both medieval Catholicism and modern Protestant Christianity. Responses to it include on one extreme from the Calvinist doctrine of "infant damnation" with its the related Calvinist model of humanity's "total depravity"; this theology embraces the doctrine fully. On the opposite extreme, Pelagian heresies rejected original sin altogether, holding that each human is only accountable for his or her own actions rather than inheriting sin from one's ancestors. The modern doctrine of "Prevenient Grace" in Methodism is in many ways a watered-down version of medieval Pelagianism.

ORPHAN: In printing, an orphan is a single short line beginning a paragraph but separated from all the other lines in that paragraph by a page break, thus appearing by itself at the bottom of the previous page or column. Orphans traditionally should be avoided in printing and in college essays. Luckily for students, writers can avoid such a faux pas by turning on "widow/orphan control" on their word processors. The trick in Microsoft Word is to click on the "format" option and then select "paragraph." Then select "line and page breaks" to find the appropriate option. Contrast with widow.

ORNAMENTALISM: In 19th-century Russian literary history, a term for elaborate prose style in which the manner of narration is more significant than its content. The resulting quality was not necessarily ornate or beautiful--it could be ugly and plain--but the key trait was that the ornamental style deliberately called attention to itself (Harkins 268). It became the dominant writing style in Russian prose in the 1920s (268).

ORTHOEPY: In linguistics, the study of pronunciation as it relates to spelling. A linguist who specializes in this area is an orthoepist.

ORTHOGRAPHY: (1) The linguistic term for a writing system that represents the sounds or words of a particular languages by making visible marks on some surface (Algeo 325). (2) A systematic method of spelling.

O-STEM: A class of Old English nouns with feminine gender.

OSTRANENIE: See defamiliarization.

OTHERING: In literary theory, the process of "othering" is the depiction or categorization of another person or group of people as distinctly different from the writer's or speaker's own group--often with overtones of dehumanization. The term "othering" originates in Edward Said's influential book Orientalism, and theorists often capitalize the term as "Othering," and they do likewise with corresponding terms like "the Other," and "Otherness." It is a key concept in postcolonialism, psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Psychologically and sociologically, this tendency toward othering might have originated in humanity's tribal past, which required bands to cohere together as a close-knit groups and struggle against other tribal bands. The tendency is to feel stronger connections and allegiances to those who are "like you," and have an easier time empathizing with them, while rejecting or deriding "the Other" as inferior, strange, dangerous, savage, or foreign--often in connection with stereotypes or while simplistically lumping diverse groups together in a single category. Partly this mental process allows the thinker to do violence or harm to the Other without feeling corresponding guilt for one's actions, which can make othering a dangerous phenomenon in multi-ethnic or biracial societies. On the other hand, othering may have a positive function in helping form one's identity--as it is one way to create a sense of self by contrasting one's own group with external ones. In its original use , Said's interest was how European writers "othered" the cultures of the Middle East and Asia, depicting them as mystical rather than rational in mental outlook, pleasure-seeking and indulgent rather than disciplined and abstemious in behavior, and tyrannical rather than democratic in political tendencies. At best, western writers would use the Orient as a contrasting point with their own cultures, and at worst, psychologically project their own repressed (and unsavory) desires and practices on them. However, the term is widely applicable even outside of the Oriental context.

Contrast this tendency with Rousseau's idea of the noble savage, which likewise over-simplifies and lumps together diverse groups as a means of contrasting one's own ethnic group as outsiders, but in this case tends to idealize or romanticize the Other as superior to one's own culture, seeing them as possessing innate virtues and qualities lacking in one's own group.

OTHER WORLD, THE: A motif in folklore and mythology in which an alternative world exists in conjunction with the physical world. Typically, mysterious or unknowable beings occupy this world who resemble humanity but who remain alien in their motivations, powers, and concerns, often toying or playing with mortals for their own amusement in one moment, or showering them with gifts and benefits the next. In Old Irish myths, for instance, a tall and frightening race of Elves (the Sidh, pronounced like the modern English word "she") lived underneath the hills. A similar race, the Alfar, appear in Norse mythology. In some myths, the race is divided into good and evil races, the Blessed or Unblessed Courts, or the "Light-Elves" and "Dark-Elves" (liosalfar and svartalfar), but in most accounts the elvish races are merely capricious and unpredictable in their behavior.

Anthropological studies note how primitive societies often consider liminal (in-between) times and places to be dangerous or magically charged, and this holds true for the Other World motif. Journey back and forth between the human world and the realms of Faerie might be achieved at liminal times. Examples of such times might be Beltain or Samhain, the two holidays marking the transition from winter to summer and vice-versa, or at sunset and sunrise, a liminal time between day and night, or at noon or midnight. At such moments of flux, gates into fairyland might open in hillsides or in lake ways. Likewise, liminal spaces might provide permanent entrance into the Other World, transitional places that were neither one location or another. Suspect places or areas include Ymp-trees (which are artificially grafted blends of two tree species), doorways (which are neither indoors nor outdoors), sea-shores (which are neither sea nor land), fords for running water (which are neither rock nor river), boundary markers, gates, crossroads, graveyards, gibbets, and the north side of churches. Finally, unusual geological or architectural features were thought to be dangerous spots where ruptures might manifest into the other world, including barrow-mounds (cf. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), standing stones, unusually large or twisted trees, and fairy-rings (circular growths of mushrooms).

Often folklore involves fairy visitations to the human world, such as the late medieval belief in "trooping fairies" who would ride on hunts or parades through the forest. Other examples are the collective changeling legends, in which elves would kidnap human children and leave behind one of their sickly or elderly elves in the crib disguised via illusion. (In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, one of the quarrels between King Oberon and Titania is the question about who has ownership over a kidnapped human child.) The other world was often depicted as mirroring the human world in its organization. (Thus, in Chinese mythology, the Celestial Hierarchy had a court with court-officials exactly identical to court of the Tang dynasty, and in medieval romances, the other world might have a feudal government complete with castles, laborers, nobles and knights to match that of Europe.)

Often the otherworldly inhabitants only mimic the outward semblance of humanity, but their actual motivations may be nonsensical or contradictory (witness Through the Looking Glass, more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland).

If the souls of the dead inhabit the supernatural region, scholars typically call it the underworld rather than the Other World, though in actual mythology, the distinction is often blurred, such as in the Middle English Sir Orfeo, where the fairylands are inhabited by the mangled corpses of the dead. See also Descent into the Underworld.

OUTLAW: An individual determined by a council vote to be an outlaw at a thing or an althing was considered outside the normal bounds of kinship relations in Iceland. He was considered outside the law (hence the term), and anyone who met him would be allowed to kill him or rob him without repercussions from the rest of the Viking community. Since the medieval government of Iceland did not have an official bureaucracy of police, sherrifs, or gendarmerie, much less a national army to enforce its law, the declaration of outlaw status was a common punishment. It allowed an entire community to take the law in its own hands, in its own time. Many of the major heroes in Icelandic sagas are outlaws or become outlaws over the course of the saga.

OUTRIDE: See discussion under sprung rhythm.

OUTSIDE SPEAKER: The "speaker" of a poem or story presented in third-person point of view, i.e., the imaginary voice that speaks of other characters in the third person (as he / she / they) without ever revealing the speaker's own identity or relationship to the narrative.

OV LANGUAGE (pronounced "oh-vee"): A language that tends to place the grammatical object before the verb in a sentence. Japanese is an example of an OV language. Contrast with VO languages.

OVERGENERALIZATION: In linguistics, the introduction of a nonstandard or previously non-existent spelling or verb form when a speaker or writer makes an analogy to a regular spelling or a regular verb. For instance, a child who says "I *broked it" has created a new verb form (*broked) by an analogy to how regular verbs form. He has overgeneralized rather than learned the irregular past participle broken and the irregular past tense broke. Cf. hypercorrection and linguistic analogy.

OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY: This fat, twelve+ volume work functions as an historical dictionary of English. It is generally considered the most authoritative and scholarly dictionary of English available--with nearly 300,000 word entries in its most recent form. Scholars refer to it lovingly as the OED. The project arose out of meetings of the Philological Society of London in 1857, and in January of 1858, the society passed a resolution to begin the OED's creation. The task was to record every word that could be found in English from around 1000 CE and to exhibit its history: i.e, where the word first appeared in surviving writings, and how its spelling, meaning, and form changed across the years. This would be illustrated by quoting example texts using the word in each decade. Herbert Coleridge functioned as the first editor, but medievalist F. J. Furnivall oversaw much of the initial work. The OED's first installment ("A") came out in 1884, and the complete first edition came out piecemeal over time. In 1933, a supplementary volume followed the complete set. A newer four volume supplement came out piecemeal between 1972 and 1986--and an amalgamated second edition in 1989. Oxford University Press is currently working on an exciting third edition in electronic format.

OXYMORON (plural oxymora, also called paradox): Using contradiction in a manner that oddly makes sense on a deeper level. Simple or joking examples include such oxymora as jumbo shrimp, sophisticated rednecks, and military intelligence. The richest literary oxymora seem to reveal a deeper truth through their contradictions. These oxymora are sometimes called paradoxes. For instance, "without laws, we can have no freedom." Shakespeare's Julius Caesar also makes use of a famous oxymoron: "Cowards die many times before their deaths" (2.2.32). Richard Rolle uses an almost continuous string of oxymora in his Middle English work, "Love is Love That Lasts For Aye." Click here for more examples of oxymora.

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

Works Cited:

  • Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1993. [Now superseded by later editions.]
  • ---. "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 2000. 2944-61. 2 Vols.
  • Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles. The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition. U.S.A., 2004.
  • Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
  • Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. [Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
  • Carrick, Jake. E-mail interview. 28 April 2016.
  • Catholic University of America Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967-79.
  • Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
  • Crow, Martin and Virginia E. Leland. "A Chronology of Chaucer's Life and Times." As condensed and reproduced in Larry Benson's The Canterbury Tales, Complete. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. xxiii-xxv.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
  • Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
  • Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Duffy, Seán. Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
  • Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
  • Feeney, Denis. "Introduction." Ovid: Metamorphóses Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
  • Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
  • Giroux, Joan. The Haiku Form. New York: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1974. Reprinted New York: Barnes and Noble, 1999.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen. "Glossary." The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: Norton, 1997. 1139-43.
  • Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Glossary." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. 317-29.
  • Harkins, Williams E. Dictionary of Russian Literature. The New Students Outline Series. Patterson, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams, and Co., 1959.
  • Harvey, Sir Paul and Dorothy Eagle, eds. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.
  • Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 3rd edition. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1972.
  • Hopper, Vincent Foster. Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought and Expression. 1938. Republished Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
  • Horobin, Simon. Chaucer's Language. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
  • Kane, George. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies. London: H. K. Lewis, 1965.
  • Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
  • Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.
  • Marshall, Jeremy and Fred McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
  • Mawson, C. O. Sylvester and Charles Berlitz. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 2nd ed. 1975.
  • McManus, Damian. Ogam Stones At University College Cork. Cork: Cork U P, 2004.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford U P, 1993.
  • O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
  • Page, P.K. "Forward." Hologram. Brick Books, London, Ontario: 1994.
  • Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Clasical Literature and Antiquities. New York: The American Book Company, 1923. 2 vols.
  • Preminger, Alex, and T.V.F. Brogan, et al. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. New York: MJF Books for Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Perelman, Ch. and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame, U of Notre Dame P, 2000.
  • Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. New York: Laughlin, 1960..
  • The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
  • Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Davis, California: Hermagoras P, 1993.
  • Rae, Gail. Guide to Literary Terms. Staten Island, New York: Research and Educational Association, 1998.
  • Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs. "Glossary of Literary Terms." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 2028-50.
  • Scott, Kathleen L. Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996. 2 Vols.
  • Shaw, Harry. Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. The Philosophical Library. New York: Philosophical Library, 1943.
  • Smith, Richard Upsher, Jr. A Glossary of Terms in Grammar, Rhetoric, and Prosody for Readers of Greek and Latin. Mundelein, Illinois: Bolchazy-Caducci Publishers, Inc., 2011.
  • Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  • Smith, David P. "Glossary of Grammar Terms." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to students in Basic Greek at Carson-Newman University in the Fall Term of 2006.]
  • Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1990.
  • Velásquez, Lito. E-mail communication. 26 October 2015.
  • Williams, Jerri. "Schemes and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
  • Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1957.
  • Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev Ed. New York: Meridian Books, 1974.
  • Zireaux, Paul. E-mail Interview. 21 June 2012.


 

 

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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2016. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated August 15th, 2016. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.